Some background information will help us understand better the significance of Jesus’ remarks in our gospel this Sunday. In the 2nd century B.C., Israel, under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, won independence from Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who tried to impose Greek culture on them by force. But that independence was short-lived as the Jewish community soon broke into factions, one of which asked the Roman empire to help put things in order. The Romans came and stayed, making Judea a Roman territory. Herod the Great ruled the region under Roman authority from 37 – 4 B.C. During that time, he undertook a great number of impressive construction projects including the citadels of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea and Herodium just a few miles south east of Bethlehem, the city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast with the largest artificial harbour in the world, and impressive aqueducts to bring water from Mt Carmel, and the rebuilding of the walls and much of the city of Jerusalem.
This latter project included a major expansion of the temple mount to accommodate crowds of up to 100,000 visitors. The actual temple building was rebuilt in a way that services in the temple continued throughout the time of reconstruction. The work on the temple began in 19 B.C. and the chief part of the project was completed in ten years, but the finishing touches of adorning the area with facing stones and paving stones continued on until 64 A.D., just a handful of years before the entire structure would be destroyed. To those who lived in the vicinity of the temple, or visited it, it must have seemed to be indestructible. The disciples’ remarks to Jesus at the beginning of the gospel for this Sunday show the awe and reverence they had for this magnificent building. Yet Jesus is very dismissive and predicts that soon it will be destroyed and all its magnificent stone-work thrown down. Such a catastrophic event could only seem to his disciples as a sign that the end of the world had come and they press Jesus for more details on this apocalyptic event.
In 68 A.D. a group of Zealots , guerilla-style groups trying to free Judea from Roman dominance, attacked and killed all the members of a Roman squadron coming up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. They then headed to Caesarea and other Roman outposts in the region, killing off all Roman troops and declaring their independence. Rome marched their best army into Jewish territory, moving in a path of destruction from north to south. Re-taking the city of Jerusalem, the Roman army completely destroyed the temple. It has never been rebuilt. It is tempting to interpret events such as the destruction of the temple, persecutions, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc, as precursors of the end times. Some Christian denominations and preachers have predicted specific dates for the end as well. While believing and looking forward to an eventual Second Coming of Christ, the Catholic Church prefers to focus on being ready at all times rather than try to figure out the exact time.