"BEHOLD, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT
UNTO YOU DESOLATE" (Matthew
ISRAEL had the unique experience
of God dealing with them in a direct, personal way. His Shekinah presence
in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire had led them into the Promised
Land and had taken its residence between the cherubim on the mercy seat
of the ark of the covenant. This was in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle.
As time passed in the history of the nation and David was king, he wanted
to build God a house (II Samuel 7:1-17). God allowed his son Solomon to
build the temple (I Kings 6:1). With the dedication of the temple, God's
Shekinah presence entered the building (I Kings 8:10,11; II Chronicles
7:1). It was indeed the house of God. Needless to say, this holy place
was most sacred and dear to the Israelites. It was the heartthrob of their
national and religious life. The thrill of such a unique situation and
relationship is expressed in Psalms 122:1, "I was glad when they said unto
me, Let us go into the house of the LORD."
Although the temple standing in the time of Christ was not the original
one built in the days of Solomon, it was still recognized as the house
of God. The nation had gone through turbulent times and changes. Although
the experience of the Babylonian Captivity had weaned them from idolatry,
religion in the time of Christ was in a bad state (and especially among
its leaders). Politics and materialism had reduced their religion to mere
formality. Early in his ministry Jesus had run the money changers out of
the temple, saying, "Take these things hence; make not my Father's
house an house of merchandise" (John 2:13-17). Three years later
the situation was no better and a second cleansing of the temple occurred.
As Jesus "cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew
the tables of the moneychangers," he quotes Scripture and says, "It is
written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but
ye have made it a den of thieves" (Matthew 21:12,13).
Sometime before this, the religious leaders had decided that Jesus must
die (John 11:47-53). They said, "If we let him thus alone, all men will
believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our
place and nation." On one of those eventful days leading up to
his crucifixion, the Lord had wept over Jerusalem, and then said, "Behold,
your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:37,38).
Following this, the disciples are amazed at the things the Lord said in
reference to the temple: "There shall not be left here one stone upon another,
that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:2). When Jesus died on the cross,
"the veil of the temple was rent in the midst" (Luke 23:45). Then with
the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans there was not one
stone left unturned of the temple. It was left desolate.
Did you notice the change in the mode of expression in reference to the
temple? In the Old Testament the temple was called the house of God.
Jesus called it, "My Father's house." But the religious leaders spoke of
"our place," and finally Jesus declared, "Behold, your
house is left unto you desolate." They looked upon the temple as
their own personal possession to do with as they pleased. It was center
stage (along with their religion) for their own personal purposes, ambitions,
and aggrandizement. (Their religion was dominated by their traditions,
Matthew 15:1-9). Jesus, God Incarnate, could not stand in their way. He
must be eliminated. Thus, Jesus simply tells it like it is. It is no longer
God's house, but their house. God had left it. Thus, Jesus made the solemn
Perhaps there are many lessons here for us if we would have a mind to learn
them. God has a house today in which He dwells, and that house is the church
(not the physical church building, but the people). Paul addressed the
Corinthians, "Know ye not that ye [plural] are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple
of God [the church], him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy,
which temple ye are" (I Corinthians 3:16,17). This truth is also brought
out when Paul instructed Timothy about the public life of the church. He
said, "These things I write unto thee...that thou mayest know how thou
oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of
the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:14,15).
That being the case that the church is the house of God, that means it
is not our house. But the "our house" mentality abounds all
about us today. In the diverse denominational world in which we find ourselves,
it is not uncommon to hear people speak of "our church" and "your church,"
i.e., as "our church" (our denomination) believes this as opposed to "your
church" (your denomination) believing that. Of course along with this comes
all of their traditions, systems, and peculiarities which they look upon
as distinctively belonging to them and being their own. With such a mindset
it seems to have never occurred to them to think simply in terms of the
"Lord's church" and that alone. In fact, it would be hard (impossible)
for them to do this. This mentality is further seen today when we hear
of "churches" voting on whether to accept premarital sex, homosexuality,
women preachers, or what-have-you (as if the "church" had a right to do
this--how presumptuous!). The true church is "the pillar
and ground of the truth," and there is no voting on the truth (it is either
accepted or rejected). It never changes. The supposed church has become
On a lesser scale some are controlled by this kind of mentality who in
a sense talk about New Testament Christianity and the undenominational
church. They talk about "our movement," "our brotherhood," "our fellowship,"
"our people," etc. Theoretically some people may have come out of denominationalism,
but the denominational way of thinking has not come out of them. The human
element dominates. Consequently some have set up denominational conventions
and gatherings for "our people" and "our brotherhood" (even putting national
and regional names for the gatherings). Where they get the authority to
speak, as if they were speaking for everyone, we know not. (Is the church
looked upon as "our house"?) Let's get back to the "house of God" mentality.
There is nothing wrong with being right (although some would try to make
a person feel guilty for having strong convictions).
The "our house" mentality is not absent in local church situations today
either. Reference to "our church" in the exchange of words is not always
harmless and innocent. Indeed, it may have become just that as people use
the church for whatever purposes that please them (patriotism, culture,
recreation, entertainment, etc.) When we look upon the portfolio of offices
and functions of some churches, having a mind disciplined to think only
in terms of the Scriptures, we are completely at a loss to understand what
is going on. What has happened to the Lord's elders and deacons? Where
is the New Testament evangelist? Have churches lost the distinctive concept
of their unique and spiritual mission (I Peter 2:5)? Self-indulgence seems
to preoccupy the modern church. Instead of being "the pillar and ground
of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15), it has become the pillow and lounge of
mirth. What about worship that is indeed spiritual (instead of the church
being an entertainment center)? Let the church be the church. Let it be
the house of God.
The theme of this article is of such a nature that many applications can
be made, but one more thing comes to mind before we close. It is not uncommon
to hear people speak of "our minister." The denominational concept of minister
seems to have been fully accepted in most churches. The "our" in this reference
may seem relatively harmless, but is he a hireling (John 10:11,12) that
he may be thus spoken of? And from the other perspective, we have heard
preachers talk about what "my church" is doing and "my elders." It gets
The whole point of this article is to call us back to a "house of God"
mentality when thinking about the church. Christ purchased the church with
his own blood; it is his (Acts 20:28). Let us not take over possession
of the Lord's house. Remember ancient Israel. Let us be the Lord's church
in word and deed.