Damien F. Mackey
Awaiting a Third Temple
‘Destroy this Temple
and in three days I will raise it up’.
The first Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem was built by king Solomon in approximately the C10th BC, and, after this one was destroyed by the Babylonians (traditionally in c. 587 BC), a second Temple was built by the Jews returning from the Babylonian Captivity.
This one, in turn, was destroyed by the Romans under Titus in 70 AD.
A misinterpretation of biblical prophecies, such as Daniel 9, has led Fundamentalist Christians to anticipate that a third Temple will soon be built in Jerusalem. And they expect it to be built upon the holy Mount Moriah, Har HaMoriyah (the Muslim Haram el Sharif) where currently stand the Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the neighbouring Al Aqsa mosque.
There is a lot wrong with this whole scenario, as we shall find.
Their sharing of a common view about this with many Orthodox Jews has caused Fundamentalist Christians of this persuasion to be very pro-Israel. And so we read at (http://kenraggio.com/KRPN-TheThirdTemple.htm
Christians have an interest in Jerusalem and Israel
Christians around the world are affected by events in Israel. How? For one thing, they are looking for signs pointing to the second return of Jesus Christ. Perhaps one of the most significant signs they look for is the reconstruction of the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah (the Third Temple), and the re-instituting of Old Testament sacrifices. This would be followed, prophetically, by the appearance of Man of Sin (Antichrist) in the Temple to shut it all down again - to call an end to prayers and sacrifices. This is called the Abomination that makes desolate, or the Abomination of Desolation (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:2).
A great deal of interest has been stirred by the making ready of a qualified red heifer for the re-instituting of holy sacrifices on the Temple Mount. In my last trip to Israel, Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute mentioned that there was a red heifer named "Geula" (see photo on next page) being hidden. This may be the very calf that will be used to sanctify the Temple Mount for the Third Temple.
[End of quote]
A theme quite similar to this appears to be the storyline of the highly-touted TV series DIG, which is often so convoluted, however, that even many who have followed it closely claim that they don’t really ‘dig’ it. The series does lay a lot of emphasis on the red heifer. Here is one review of DIG (http://www.jacksmithprophecy.org/2015/03/31/dig-the-mystery-of-the-biblical-red-heifer-and-the-building-of-the-third-temple-via-hollywood/):
USA Network mini-series, “DIG” … champions an end-of-days conspiracy pitting Jewish and Christian apocalyptics, surprisingly working together to reach the same end-goal — the coming of Messiah. Of course for Jews, the coming of Messiah will be for the first time, and for Christians, the coming of Jesus Christ will be for the second time.
The two apocalyptics are headed in a parallel yet divergent end-game, each a partner with the other, to hasten the coming of Messiah. The prophetic fulfillment for both paradigms will require the building of the Third Temple on the Temple Mount. As most are aware, the Temple Mount is under the control of a Jordanian charitable trust (called “waqf”), and its Arab trustees maintain and control the Mount and the two religious structures, thereon, the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosque. Israel is responsible for security on the Temple Mount. Jews may visit the Mount but they cannot pray upon it. Arabs, through the Jordanian charitable trust’s ownership of the Mount, claim [sovereignty] over the Temple Mount. Therefore, any attempt to rebuild the Temple in the modern-day will require Israel to claim sovereignty over the Temple Mount, an act most certainly leading to the destruction of both the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque, and a near-guarantee of the beginning of World War III.
…. Palestinian Arabs have long eschewed any Jewish claim to the Temple Mount, and in fact, have claimed East Jerusalem to be their future capital of the future Palestinian State (where the Temple Mount is located). DIG is Hollywood’s version of Arab and Jew claims to the holiest and most contested ground in the world, the Temple Mount, and how apocalyptics could play into a precarious balance of Arab and Jewish claims over the same piece of ground.
I was hooked on the first episode– dare I say, mesmerized. As of the date of this post, I have watched the first four episodes, each of which has depicted an amazingly accurate account of the apocalyptic significance of the “unblemished red heifer” in Judaism (Numbers 19:1-2), and by extension, to Arabs, Christians – and ultimately, the world. This female red cow is the rarest of animals, and in fact, none are known to have existed since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD (and the Jews have been looking for one ever since). The Mishna, the compilation of Rabbinical oral law for Judaism, contains a tractate on the red heifer entitled, “Parah” (Cow), in the 6th Division, “Tohoroth.” …. The rarity of the red heifer is due to the requirements of Scripture (as elaborated by the rabbis in the Mishna) that it be “without defect,” i.e., “unblemished,” without more than two strands of hair, a color other than red … on which no yoke has ever been placed (Numbers 19:1-2), and not more than two years old. …. In the mini-series, the red heifer is named, “Red,” and is raised on a remote farm in Norway. Red’s caretaker is a Jewish young man who seems to have little knowledge of Red’s importance but that he has been chosen to keep the animal safe, and in an unexpected turn of events, to deliver the heifer to a yet unidentified location, presumably Jerusalem.
[End of quote]
The points that I want to emphasise in this article are that, as I see it, even if a temple were eventually to be raised upon Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, it:
(a) would probably not be located at the correct site for a Temple of Yahweh;
(b) would have nothing to do with biblical prophecy; and
(c) would be quite meaningless in the context of the New Testament.
In support of (a), to begin with, I shall take some key excerpts from this important article by Dr. Ernest Martin (http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1059310/posts:
Associates for Scriptural Knowledge ^ | April 4, 1998 | Dr. Ernest L. Martin
Dr. Martin writes:
…. Once we recognize the actual situation of the two structures that I show in the illustrations, and once you realize their dimensions, many points of teaching that we observe in the New Testament will make much better sense to us. In a word, a true perspective of those two buildings that occupied the greater part of northeastern Jerusalem (west of the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Offense) will provide a panoramic view that will show the sheer beauty and majesty of the Mother City of the Jews in the early part of the first century. Without doubt, it was a splendid and awesome display of architectural grandeur at its best.
My new book "The Temples that Jerusalem Forgot" will present the full and interesting details.
What you are about the see in the illustrations at the conclusion of this Report is the description of the Temple and Fort Antonia as presented by Josephus, the Jewish historian. He was an eyewitness to the City of Jerusalem before the Romans destroyed it in A.D.70 ….
A Panoramic View of Ancient Jerusalem
Let me start by mentioning a scene that usually occupies the attention of each person who visits Jerusalem for the first time (or who returns year after year to see the archaeological remains of the Jerusalem of Herod and Jesus). That particular scene is observed from the Mount of Olives just in front of the Seven Arches Hotel. This is where people can obtain the best over-all view of the ancient and modern City of Jerusalem. ….
My first visit to Jerusalem was in the year 1961. Since then I have returned to the city over thirty times from areas in Europe or America where I have lived .… (from 1958 to 1972). In Jerusalem, I worked personally on a daily basis with Professor Benjamin Mazar in the archaeological excavations at the western and southern walls of the Haram esh-Sharif [Temple Mount]. My working association with Professor Mazar on that site lasted for two months each summer during the years 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973.
…. With this in mind, let’s return to the top of the Mount of Olives to be reminded of the splendid panoramic perspective depicting the remnants of ancient Jerusalem as well as witnessing the vibrant and bustling modern City of Jerusalem. ….
Observing Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
The view is spectacular. There is no scene from other areas of Jerusalem that can replicate the grandeur of the ancient archaeological remains of the city. What dominates the scene, as one looks westward, is a rectangular body of walls with gigantic stones perfectly aligned with one another in their lower courses. These four walls present to the observer a feeling of majesty and awe at what the ancients were capable of accomplishing by their architectural achievements. These walls surround the area presently known as the Haram esh-Sharif (the Noble Enclosure). The stones of the lower courses in those walls are in their pristine positions. They are still placed neatly on top of another without any major displacement from their original alignments. These lower stones are clearly Herodian in origin, and in some places in the eastern portion of the wall they are pre-Herodian. There are certainly more than 10,000 of these stones still in place as they were in the time of Herod and Jesus. ….
All of these stones in those four walls survived the Roman/Jewish War of A.D.70-73.
The grand centerpiece within the whole enclosure is the Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock. It is centrally located in a north/south dimension within the rectangular area of the Haram. To the south of the Dome and abutting to the southern wall is another large building called the Al Aqsa Mosque with its smaller dome … the whole area is overshadowed and dominated by the Haram esh-Sharif with those ancient walls that impressively highlight the scene.
This is the view that modern viewers are accustomed to see.
But let us now go back over 1900 years and imagine viewing Jerusalem from this same spot. It is from this vantage point that Titus (the Roman General) looked on the ruins of Jerusalem after the Roman/Jewish War in A.D.70. The description of what Titus saw is very instructive. We should read his appraisal in the accounts preserved by Josephus because Josephus and Titus were both eyewitnesses. Notice not only what Titus observed, but also what he left out of the narrative (War VII.1,1). This omission will become of prime importance in our inquiry regarding the true location of the Temple. Titus commanded that only a part of a wall and three forts were to remain of what was once the glorious City of Jerusalem. Notice what is stated in War VII.1,1.
"Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury … Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind" (Whiston trans., italics …bracketed … mine).
This eyewitness account about the total ruin of Jerusalem has given visitors to Jerusalem a major problem in relation to what we witness of ancient Jerusalem today.
These descriptions by Josephus are what he and Titus saw from the Mount of Olives. But this is NOT what we observe today. We see something remaining from the period of Herod and Jesus that is quite different.
The fact is, Titus gave orders that the Temple was to be demolished. The only man-made structures to be left in Jerusalem was to be a portion of the western wall and the three fortresses located in the Upper City. This was Titus’ intention at first. But within a short time, even that portion of the western wall and the three fortresses in the west were so thoroughly destroyed that not a trace of them remained (unless the so-called "Tower of David" near the present day Jaffa Gate as scholars guess is a part of the foundation of Hippicus or Phasaelus). At the conclusion of the war, the Tenth Legion left Jerusalem a mass of ruins. …. by late A.D.70, there was nothing left standing of the Temple or the buildings of Jerusalem. Josephus stated:
"And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it" (War VI.1,1).
What the Modern Visitor Observes
These descriptions by Josephus are what he and Titus saw from the Mount of Olives. But this is NOT what we observe today. We see something remaining from the period of Herod and Jesus that is quite different. Directly to the west, we view an awe-inspiring architectural relic of the past that is splendidly positioned directly in front of us. It dominates the whole western prospect of this panoramic view. That ancient structure is the Haram esh-Sharif. Its rectangular walls are so large in dimension that the Haram effectively obscures much of the view of the present old city of Jerusalem. And certainly, without the slightest doubt, the Haram (in its lower courses of stones that make up its walls) is a building that survived the Roman/Jewish War. Indeed, it is an outstanding example of the early architectural grandeur that once graced the Jerusalem of Herod and Jesus that has withstood two thousand years of weathering, earthquakes, wars and natural deterioration.
What is strange, and almost inexplicable at first, is the fact that Josephus mentioned the utter ruin of the Temple and all the City of Jerusalem, but he gave no reference whatever to the Haram esh-Sharif or that Titus had commanded that those walls should remain intact. And through the centuries, up to our modern period, there are over 10,000 stones still in their original positions making up the four walls of the Haram. As a matter of fact, in Titus’ time there were probably another 5,000 stones that were left on the upper courses of the four walls that have been dislodged and fallen to the ground over the centuries since the first century. What must be recognized is the fact that Titus deliberately left the rectangular shaped Haram esh-Sharif practically in the state he found it when he first got to Jerusalem with his legions. Strangely, Titus must have ordered that those four walls be retained for all future ages to see.
Without doubt, the Haram esh-Sharif with its gigantic walls was a survivor of the war. But how could Josephus have failed to account for the retention of such a spacious and magnificent building that was clearly in existence in pre-war Jerusalem?
The continued existence of those extensive remains of the Haram esh-Sharif seem (at first glance) to nullify the appraisal of Josephus and Titus. Remember, they said that nothing of Jerusalem was left. "It [Jerusalem] was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited."
What is even more strange is the modern belief that the Haram esh-Sharif must be reckoned as the site of the Temple Mount. If present scholarly opinion is correct, this means that Titus and the Roman legions did not destroy the outer walls of the Temple in its middle and lower courses. The Romans left over 10,000 stones in place around the Haram. This modern belief of scholars and religious authorities (whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian) that the retention of those 10,000 stones around the Haram represents the remnants of the walls of the Temple make the above descriptions of their demolition by Josephus and Titus as being outlandish exaggerations. And true enough, this is precisely how most modern scholars, theologians, religious leaders and archaeologists view the matter.
Professor Williamson, who translated Josephus, said this was the case. He remarked that the thorough desolation that Titus was supposed to have seen in front of him was: "An exaggeration. A great deal of the southern part of the Temple enclosure was spared. The whole of the south wall of its successor, the present wall round the Haram esh-Sharif, the southern section of the west wall (the ‘Wailing Wall’, where the fall of Jerusalem is still lamented) and a short stretch of the east wall running up from the southeast corner are Herodian to a considerable height" (The Jewish War, p.454, note 2). We will see abundant evidence in my new book that Josephus was not exaggerating. This is because that enclosure known as the Haram esh-Sharif was NOT the Temple Mount, nor was the structure then officially reckoned as a part of the municipality of Jerusalem. ….
Our modern scholars and religious authorities consistently state that we cannot believe Josephus literally in his accounts concerning the important descriptions that he provides. We will discover, however, that it is the modern scholars and the religious leaders who are wrong and not Josephus. Josephus, the historian/priest, knew what he was talking about. Jerusalem and the Temple were totally destroyed and not a stone of them was left in place. The truth is, the Haram esh-Sharif was NOT the Temple Mount.
Josephus Was Not Exaggerating
It is time for us to realize that it is the modern scholars who are wrong, not the eyewitness accounts of Josephus and Titus.
Jerusalem and the Temple were indeed destroyed to the bedrock just as they relate.
Regarding this, there are other sections of Josephus’ accounts to show that he was not exaggerating. Josephus was keen on telling his readers that all the walls around Jerusalem were leveled to the ground. Note his observation: "Now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city [the suburbs] and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its [Jerusalem’s] walls" (War VI.9,4.).
This reference shows that all the walls, even those enclosing the outskirts of Jerusalem, were finally leveled to the ground. To reinforce the matter, Josephus said elsewhere: "When he [Titus] entirely demolished the rest of the city, and overthrew its walls, he left these towers [the three towers mentioned above] as a monument of his good fortune, which had proved [the destructive power of] his auxiliaries, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him" (War VI.9,1).
Indeed, the majority of Christian visitors to Jerusalem who first view those huge stones surrounding the rectangular area of the Haram (and who know the prophecies of Jesus) are normally perplexed and often shocked at what they see.
And they ought to be.
A Quandary for Modern Christians
These facts present a major problem for Christians. If those rectangular walls of the Haram are indeed the same walls (in their lower courses) that formerly embraced the Temple Mount, why are these stones (more than 10,000 in number) yet so firmly on top of one another? The continued existence of those gigantic and majestic walls would show that Titus did not destroy the walls of the Temple, if those walls did surround the Temple. Why is this a difficulty for Christian belief? The reason is plain.
Christians are aware of four prophecies given by Jesus in the New Testament that there would not be one stone left upon another either of the Temple and its walls or even of the City of Jerusalem and its walls (Matthew 24:1,2; Mark 13:1,2; Luke 19:43,44; 21:5,6.). But strange as it may appear, the walls surrounding the Haram esh-Sharif still remain in their glory with their 10,000+ Herodian and pre-Herodian stones solidly in place in their lower courses. If those stones are those of the Temple, the prophecies of Jesus can be seriously doubted as having any historical value or merit in any analysis by intelligent and unbiased observers.
Indeed, the majority of Christian visitors to Jerusalem who first view those huge stones surrounding the rectangular area of the Haram (and who know the prophecies of Jesus) are normally perplexed and often shocked at what they see. And they ought to be. The surprise at what they observe has been the case with numerous people that I have guided around Jerusalem and Israel. They have asked for an explanation concerning this apparent failure of the prophecies of Jesus. Why do those gigantic walls still exist? If those walls represent the stones around the Temple, then the prophecies of Christ are invalid.
The usual explanation, however, to justify the credibility to Jesus’ prophecies is to say that Jesus could only have been speaking about the inner Temple and its buildings, NOT the outer Temple and its walls that surrounded it. This is the customary and the conciliatory answer that most scholars provide …). The truth is, however, this explanation will not hold water when one looks at what Jesus prophesied.
One should carefully observe the prophecies of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. They plainly state that one stone would not rest on another of the Temple, its buildings, and his prophecies also embraced its outer walls. The Greek word Jesus used in his prophetic context to describe the Temple and its buildings was heiron (this means the entire Temple including its exterior buildings and walls). Notice what Vincent says about the meaning of heiron.
"The word temple (heiron, lit., sacred place) signifies the whole compass of the sacred enclosure, with its porticos, courts, and other subordinate buildings; and should be carefully distinguished from the other word, naos, also rendered temple, which means the temple itself — the "Holy Place" and the "Holy of Holies." When we read, for instance, of Christ teaching in the temple (heiron) we must refer it to one of the temple-porches [outer colonnades]. So it is from the heiron, the court of the Gentiles, that Christ expels the money-changers and cattle-merchants" (Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. I., p.50).
The exterior buildings of the Temple including its walls were always reckoned within the meaning of the word heiron that Jesus used in his prophecies concerning the total destruction of the Temple. There were several outer divisions of the Temple that were distinguished from the Inner Temple, and these outer appurtenances were accounted to be cardinal features of the Sanctuary. As an example, note the New Testament account stating that Satan took Jesus to the "pinnacle of the Temple" (Matthew 4:5). The pinnacle section was the southeastern corner of the outer wall that surrounded the whole of the Temple complex. The wording in the New Testament shows that this southeastern angle belonged to the Temple — it was a pinnacle [a wing] "of the Temple." That area was very much a part of the sacred edifice to which Jesus referred when he prophesied that not one stone would remain on another.
There is an important geographical factor that proves this point. When Jesus made his prophecy that no stone would be left on one another, Matthew said that Jesus and his disciples had just departed from the outer precincts of the Temple. This means that all of them were at the time viewing the exterior sections of the Temple (the heiron) when he gave his prophecy (Matthew 24:1). The Gospel of Mark goes even further and makes it clear that the outside walls of the Temple were very much in the mind of Jesus when he said they would be uprooted from their very foundations. "And as he [Jesus] went out of the Temple [note that Jesus and the disciples were standing outside the Temple walls and looking back toward the Temple enclosure], one of his disciples saith unto him, ‘Master, see what buildings are here!’ And Jesus answering said unto him, ‘Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’"(Matthew 24:1). Without the slightest doubt, when Jesus in his prophecy spoke about the destruction of the Temple, he was certainly including in his prophecy the stones of the outer walls that enclosed the Temple as well as the buildings of the inner Temple.
The Whole City of Jerusalem Also to be Destroyed
Jesus went even further than simply prophesying about the destruction of the Temple and its walls. He also included within his prophetic predictions the stones that made up the whole City of Jerusalem (with every building and house that comprised the metropolis — including the walls that embraced its urban area). According to Jesus in Luke 19:43,44, every structure of Jewish Jerusalem would be leveled to the ground —to the very bedrock. ….
Jesus Christ is
“the New Temple”
The quest for a Third Temple has no biblical relevance if Pope Benedict XVI was correct in this his view that Jesus Christ is “the new Temple”.
Saint Peter's Square
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our recent Catecheses we have seen how through personal and community prayer the interpretation of and meditation on Sacred Scripture open us to listening to God who speaks to us and instils light in us so that we may understand the present.
Today, I would like to talk about the testimony and prayer of the Church’s first martyr, St Stephen, one of the seven men chosen to carry out the service of charity for the needy. At the moment of his martyrdom, recounted in the Acts of the Apostles, the fruitful relationship between the Word of God and prayer is once again demonstrated.
Stephen is brought before the council, before the Sanhedrin, where he is accused of declaring that “this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, [the Temple] and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14). During his public life Jesus had effectively foretold the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem: you will “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). But, as the Evangelist John remarked, “he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (Jn 2:21-22).
Stephen’s speech to the council, the longest in the Acts of the Apostles, develops on this very prophecy of Jesus who is the new Temple, inaugurates the new worship and, with his immolation on the Cross, replaces the ancient sacrifices. Stephen wishes to demonstrate how unfounded is the accusation leveled against him of subverting the Mosaic law and describes his view of salvation history and of the covenant between God and man. In this way he reinterprets the whole of the biblical narrative, the itinerary contained in Sacred Scripture, in order to show that it leads to the “place”, of the definitive presence of God that is Jesus Christ, and in particular his Passion, death and Resurrection. In this perspective Stephen also interprets his being a disciple of Jesus, following him even to martyrdom. Meditation on Sacred Scripture thus enables him to understand his mission, his life, his present. Stephen is guided in this by the light of the Holy Spirit and by his close relationship with the Lord, so that the members of the Sanhedrin saw that his face was “like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). This sign of divine assistance is reminiscent of Moses’ face which shone after his encounter with God when he came down from Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 34:29-35; 2 Cor 3:7-8).
In his discourse Stephen starts with the call of Abraham, a pilgrim bound for the land pointed out to him by God which he possessed only at the level of a promise. He then speaks of Joseph, sold by his brothers but helped and liberated by God, and continues with Moses, who becomes an instrument of God in order to set his people free but also and several times comes up against his own people’s rejection. In these events narrated in Sacred Scripture to which Stephen demonstrates he listens religiously, God always emerges, who never tires of reaching out to man in spite of frequently meeting with obstinate opposition. And this happens in the past, in the present and in the future. So it is that throughout the Old Testament he sees the prefiguration of the life of Jesus himself, the Son of God made flesh who — like the ancient Fathers — encounters obstacles, rejection and death.
Stephen then refers to Joshua, David and Solomon, whom he mentions in relation to the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, and ends with the word of the Prophet Isaiah (66:1-2): “Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” (Acts 7:49-50). In his meditation on God’s action in salvation history, by highlighting the perennial temptation to reject God and his action, he affirms that Jesus is the Righteous One foretold by the prophets; God himself has made himself uniquely and definitively present in him: Jesus is the “place” of true worship. Stephen does not deny the importance of the Temple for a certain period, but stresses that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” (Acts 7:48).
The new, true temple in which God dwells is his Son, who has taken human flesh; it is the humanity of Christ, the Risen One, who gathers the peoples together and unites them in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. The description of the temple as “not made by human hands” is also found in the theology of St Paul and in the Letter to the Hebrews; the Body of Jesus which he assumed in order to offer himself as a sacrificial victim for the expiation of sins, is the new temple of God, the place of the presence of the living God; in him, God and man, God and the world are truly in touch: Jesus takes upon himself all the sins of humanity in order to bring it into the love of God and to “consummate” it in this love. Drawing close to the Cross, entering into communion with Christ, means entering this transformation. And this means coming into contact with God, entering the true temple.
Stephen’s life and words are suddenly cut short by the stoning, but his martyrdom itself is the fulfilment of his life and message: he becomes one with Christ. Thus his meditation on God’s action in history, on the divine word which in Jesus found complete fulfilment, becomes participation in the very prayer on the Cross. Indeed, before dying, Stephen cries out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59), making his own the words of Psalm 31:6 and repeating Jesus’ last words on Calvary: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Lastly, like Jesus, he cries out with a loud voice facing those who were stoning him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Let us note that if on the one hand Stephen’s prayer echoes Jesus’, on the other it is addressed to someone else, for the entreaty is to the Lord himself, namely, to Jesus whom he contemplates in glory at the right hand of the Father: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55).
Dear brothers and sisters, St Stephen’s witness gives us several instructions for our prayers and for our lives. Let us ask ourselves: where did this first Christian martyr find the strength to face his persecutors and to go so far as to give himself? The answer is simple: from his relationship with God, from his communion with Christ, from meditation on the history of salvation, from perceiving God’s action which reached its crowning point in Jesus Christ. Our prayers, too, must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church.
A second element: St Stephen sees the figure and mission of Jesus foretold in the history of the loving relationship between God and man. He — the Son of God — is the temple that is not “made with hands” in which the presence of God the Father became so close as to enter our human flesh to bring us to God, to open the gates of heaven. Our prayer, therefore, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as the Lord of our, or my, daily life. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can address God and be truly in touch with God, with the faith and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely. Thank you.