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Matthew 5:18 – Heaven and Earth and the Destruction of the Temple

Muslims, Torah Observers (Hebrew Roots Movement), and some Zionist Christians (Dispensationalists) teach that the law of Moses still remains today. Of course, who is still under the Law, how it must be kept, and other minor details differ among the three groups. All three, however, typically use Matthew 5:18 as the go-to verse to show that the Law remains, since Heaven and Earth have not yet passed away.

For verily I say unto you, ‘Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ (Matthew 5:18)

The basic answer to those who say that the Law of Moses remains is that Jesus fulfilled the Law and was contrasting the Law of Moses with the Law of Christ as contained in the Sermon on the Mount. Evidence of this is apparent in the whole of the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus corrects many Laws in the Law of Moses with His own Laws. For example:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

Jesus is quoting Leviticus 24:20 here, but replaces it, instead, with His Law. As He says in verse 17, He has not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it because it pointed to Him. And with His incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection, Jesus Kingdom would be established fulfilling the Law, thus the Law would be destroyed once Heaven and Earth passes as verse 18 states. But has that happened? Do “Heaven and Earth” still remain today? Well, they do, but only in the literal sense.

You see, there is a deeper interpretation of this verse that is rooted in history showing that “Heaven and Earth” did, in fact, pass not long after the Gospel was spread by the Apostles and the Church had been established. Verse 5:18, therefore, is a prophecy foretelling of a catastrophic event–the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple, thus the end of Israel as a physical Nation. Heaven and Earth did pass for Israel, and with it the Law of Moses, as will be shown below. The Church, Israel continued as a spiritual Nation rather than physical, keeps the Law of Christ or the Heavenly Royal Laws of His Kingdom.

The Meaning of the words “Heaven and Earth”

Jesus, in Matthew 5:18, was using specific wording that would have been understood during His time as pointing to the Temple and Jerusalem as the ancient Jews called the Temple, the gateway to Heaven and Jerusalem, specifically Temple Mount, the center of the Earth and even the center of the Universe. The Temple contained the portal to God, to Heaven, where Heaven and Earth met. Even in exile the Jews prayed towards the Temple–Heaven–according to Solomon’s instructions:

And thou shalt hearken to the prayer of thy servant, and of thy people Israel, which they shall pray toward this place; and thou shalt hear in thy dwelling-place in heaven, and thou shalt do and be gracious. (1 Kings 8:30)

Jews today still build their synagogues facing Jerusalem and pray towards it, because God’s dwelling place, the portal to Heaven, was once behind the Temple Veil in Jerusalem. And Temple Mount itself held a special place as already mentioned as the Center of the Earth. In his book Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on the Temple, Rivka Gonen explains why the Jews saw this connection of Heaven and Earth through the Temple, Temple Mount and Jerusalem, by pointing to a rock on Temple Mount that is holy to Muslims as well today:

The holiest spot on Temple Mount is a bare rock, covered since the 7th century CE by the Muslim Dome of the Rock … This rock, according to most prevalent belief was incorporated into both Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple, became the locus of events relating to the very beginning of the world, as well as the prehistory of man-kind. It is identified in Jewish lore with the navel of the world and the center of the universe, the place where creation actually began …

In Jewish lore, the navel of the world is the center of holiness, a place that connects all three worlds–heaven, earth and the nether-world. It takes the specific form of the rock located on top of Mount Zion (the poetic biblical name of Temple Mount) in the city of Jerusalem. On the basis of interpretation of biblical and post biblical verses, these three locations–the rock itself, the mountain on which it is located, and Jerusalem–represent three levels of holiness in diminishing order. The verse “This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her” (Ezekiel 5:5) is expanded to refer to the city of Jerusalem as the center of the World. In the same vein, Isaiah’s verse “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, behold, I lay in Zion a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious stone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16) is interpreted as referring to the rock, the cornerstone of the World, situated on Mount Zion. The notion of the centrality of Mount Zion in the epic event of the creation of the World is further expressed in post-biblical literature of the Hellenistic period. The book of Jubilees states that, “He (Noah) knew that … Mount Zion is in the center of the Navel of the Earth (8:19). – Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on the Temple, Rivka Gonen, p. 128

The book of Jubilees is an ancient Jewish book still held as Scripture by Ethiopian Jews. The early Church was familiar with this book and cited it often. Jubilees does state that Temple Mount was the Center of the Earth:

And Noah rejoiced that this portion came forth for Shem and for his sons, and he remembered all that he had spoken with his mouth in prophecy; for he had said: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem And may the Lord dwell in the dwelling of Shem.’ And he knew that the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies, and the dwelling of the Lord, and Mount Sinai the centre of the desert, and Mount Zion –the centre of the navel of the earth: these three were created as holy places facing each other. – 8:18-19

Muslims retained this view of Temple Mount as well:

Like the ancient Jews, the earliest Muslims also considered Jerusalem–particularly the Temple Mount–as the center of the Earth. – Into Thin Places: One Man’s Search for the Center, Robert P. Vande Kappelle, p. 234

Jewish Author, Leon Uris, wrote in his book about Jerusalem that David himself thought of Jerusalem as the Center of the Earth and thus a link to Heaven uniting Heaven and Earth, or God and Man:

“[David] envisioned it as the center of the earth, a unique and sacred place … the link between man and G-d.” – Jerusalem, Leon Uris, p. 56

Thus, Solomon eventually built the temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. The holy of holies, the inner sanctuary of the Temple, was the gateway to Heaven and the outer courts represented the Earth. Josephus notes this in the Antiquities of the Jews (3:181) as well:

When Moses distinguished the tabernacle into three parts, and allowed two of them to the priests, as a place accessible and common, he denoted the land and the sea, these being of general access to all; but he set apart the third division for God, because heaven is inaccessible to men.

The outer portions, according to Josephus, were symbolized as “land and sea” (earth), while the inner portion was for God (Heaven).

Verses in the Bible further showing that “Heaven and Earth” were figurative language for the Temple and Temple Mount are found in Psalm and Leviticus:

He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded for ever. (Psalm 78:69)

In Leviticus, God warns the Israelites that “their Heaven and their Earth” will come to some form of destruction if they failed to keep His Laws and break His covenant. As a Nation set aside to worship Him and not take up the other Nations worship of pagan deities, Israel did eventually fail as they often took up the worship of other deities such as Moloch. After the Babylonian exile the Nation of Israel continued in exile and Judaism was born. Only some retained the Nation of Israel’s worship of the one True God as others, such as the Pharisees had taken on and added many man made traditions. Thus, Leviticus foretells of these events and the day when their Heaven and Earth would pass,the only physical remnant of the Nation of Israel, the Temple,  and with it the Law would end as well as it can not be kept without the Temple:

But if ye will not hearken to me, nor obey these my ordinances, but disobey them, and your soul should loathe my judgments, so that ye should not keep all my commands, so as to break my covenant, then will I do thus to you: I will even bring upon you perplexity and the itch, and the fever that causes your eyes to waste away, and [disease] that consumes your life; and ye shall sow your seeds in vain, and your enemies shall eat them. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall fall before your enemies, and they that hate you shall pursue you; and ye shall flee, no one pursuing you. And if ye still refuse to hearken to me, then will I chasten you yet more even seven times for your sins. And I will break down the haughtiness of your pride; and I will make your heaven iron, and your earth as it were brass. And your strength shall be in vain; and your land shall not yield its seed, and the tree of your field shall not yield its fruit. And if after this ye should walk perversely, and not be willing to obey me, I will further bring upon you seven plagues according to your sins. And I will send upon you the wild beasts of the land, and they shall devour you, and shall consume your cattle: and I will make you few in number, and your ways shall be desolate. (Leviticus 26:14-22)

Destruction of the Temple

In 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed the Temple and with it the Law of Moses passed as well. As a result, “Heaven and earth” did pass away. The Law of Moses cannot be kept without the Temple standing, though people try today in vain to keep some portions of it. There is also no Levitical priesthood to enact the Law. Jesus, being a Priest in the order of Melchizedek, does not fulfill the requirements for the Levitical priesthood and keeping of the Law of Moses:

If, therefore, perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. (Hebrews 7:11-16)

During Jesus’ time we read that the Pharisees were very prideful of their ways and the Law. As stated previously, in Leviticus God tells the Israelites if they do break His covenant He will break down the haughtiness of their pride and will make their heaven as iron and their earth as it were brass.

As an interesting side note, Josephus recorded in The Wars of the Jews (Vol. 6) that the gates of the Temple, which were covered with brass and locked shut with iron bars flung open on it’s own shortly before the destruction of the Temple.

Moreover the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor; which was there made of one entire stone: was seen to be opened of its own accord, about the sixth hour of the night. Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it: who then came up thither: and, not without great difficulty, was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy: as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord: and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that this signal foreshewed the desolation that was coming upon them.

Roman Triumphal arch panel copy from Beth Hatefutsoth, showing spoils of Jerusalem temple.

The Romans carried off various priceless items from the Temple including the Menorah and the table of the shewbread as depicted above, along with various other vessels, trumpets of silver, candlesticks and other items as they plundered the Temple before it’s destruction. This would have not only been an extremely tearful and heartbreaking event for the Jews, but very embarrassing as well since their pride as the “chosen people of God” was rooted in the Temple with its show of wealth and strength. If the Temple did not stand, their covenant and the Law tied to it no longer stood. Their covenant was gone and all symbols of it. Jospehus continues showing that Jesus’ other predictions concerning the Temple and the Jews came true:

Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable; were it not related by those that saw it; and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals. For, before sun setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost; as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said, that in the first place they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise: and after that they heard a sound, as of a multitude, saying, “Let us remove hence.”

Jesus foretold of this event in Luke:

And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24)

The Christians fled to the Mountains of Pella during Rome’s war against the Jews from 67 to 70 A.D and Jerusalem was trodded down by the Romans.

 The members of the Jerusalem church by means of an oracle, given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and settle in a town in Peraea called Pella. – Eusebius, Book III, 5:4

Verse 16. Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains— This counsel was remembered and wisely followed by the Christians afterwards. Eusebius and Epiphanius say, that at this juncture, after Cestius Gallus had raised the siege, and Vespasian was approaching with his army, all who believed in Christ left Jerusalem and fled to Pella, and other places beyond the river Jordan; and so they all marvellously escaped the general shipwreck of their country: not one of them perished. – Adam Clarke’s Commentary On Matthew 24

Tradition holds that the intense flames from the fires of the Temple burning were so hot that it literally melted the gold and the silver left in the Temple and caused it to run down between the cracks in the rocks  Because of this the Romans completely dismantled the Temple to carry off the stones that were covered in the remaining melted gold and silver, leaving no stones left behind as Jesus had prophecized:

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, ‘Master, see what manner of stones and 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.’ (Mark 13:1-2)

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’ (Matthew 24:1-2)

There shall not be left here one stone upon another — This was most punctually fulfilled; for after the temple was burnt, Titus, the Roman general, ordered the very foundations of it to be dug up; after which the ground on which it stood was ploughed up by Turnus Rufus. – John Wesley’s Commentary on Matthew 24

Jesus’ words that this generation would live to see these things had been fulfilled:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:34-35)

The Temple will never be rebuilt again by God and the Nation of Israel of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ and the Church:

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14)

Without the Temple, Jesus is the only way to God:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes ? “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (Matthew 21:42-45)

Recall the quote above from the book, Contested Holiness: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Perspectives on the Temple on Mount Zion as the Center of the Earth in Jewish thought:

Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, behold, I lay in Zion a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious stone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16) is interpreted as referring to the rock, the cornerstone of the World, situated on Mount Zion.

The Heaven and Earth of the Jews, the Temple with their Law, has passed and no longer remains today. Thus, all was fulfilled written in the Law and the Prophets concerning Jesus, His Law and the Church. Jesus gave us His laws in the Sermon on the Mount and these are what Christians are to follow today. For as Jesus says towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

 

 

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