How Does God Treat Men Who Destroy His Temple?

A single verse from the second reading this last Sunday caught my attention as a bloggable text. Here are the fruits of that investigation:

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy. – Corinthians 3:17

Who's that on the right? Is that one of the nephilim approaching Jerusalem?! Run!

Who’s that on the right? Is that one of the nephilim approaching Jerusalem?! Run!

In context, St. Paul was writing about the bodies of the Corinthians (and of us all), but the analogy only works if destruction has, in fact, come upon those who destroyed God’s temple.

The first Temple, built by King Solomon, was sacked by Shishak, king of Egypt, during the reign of Rehoboam (who was a lousy king). Shishak “took everything, including the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the house of the king, even the gold shields Solomon had made.” According to Wikipedia, Shishak’s exact historical identity is unknown, but he is very likely Sheshonk I, about whose death there seems to be no information. However, it may be worth noting that history doesn’t remember much about him (even enough to identify him with certainty) and his tomb is lost to this day. Considering that the memory of the dead was of great importance in ancient Egypt, this could be considered a sort of destruction. That having been said, Shishak didn’t really destroy the Temple, but only sacked it.

Another who looted the Temple was Joash, King of Judah, who did so in order to pay off King Hazael of Aram, who was threatening to attack Jerusalem. Joash was assassinated by conspirators. Yet another was Joash, King of Israel (not Judah), but he didn’t die in a terrible way.

Let’s look at who destroyed it.

Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, destroyed the Temple as part of his conquest of the Kingdom of Judah, along with exiling the Jews. It was this same king against whom Daniel prophesied for great pride. Nebuchadnezzar even went insane, roaming the wilderness for 7 years (see Daniel 4). Nebachudnezzar’s fall was so great that Isaiah 14 uses his story as an allegory for the fall of Lucifer.

Sharing in his predecessor’s evils was Belshazzar, who made sacrilegious use of the Temple’s sacred vessels during a drunken party in the palace (see Daniel 5). When God responded by making a mysterious hand appear out of thin air and writing words of condemnation on the walls – the origin of the phrase “the writing on the walls” – Daniel was called to interpret, but it was of no help to Belshazzar. Neither he nor his kingdom ever saw another dawn.

Cyrus, the King of Persia, later gave the Jews permission to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. With their construction attempts delayed by Samaritan political machinations, they had a pretty difficult time of it, but they did manage to succeed in constructing the second Temple. After many years and several empires and kingdoms (Persia, Macedon/Greece, Ptolemaic Egypt), the Seleucids came to rule over the Jews. Antiochus IV Epiphanes – the patron anti-saint of celebrity musicians known for mocking the liturgy – placed a statue of Zeus in the Temple and instituted the liturgical slaughter of unclean animals, as well as introducing ritual prostitution within the sacred walls and outlawing circumcision (see Maccabees 6).

Not only did he have a horrible and deserved reputation for ostentatious immorality but is own Gentile subjects – themselves generally immoral – call him Epimanes rather than Epiphanes, changing the meaning of his name from “god manifest” to “out of his mind.” (I have Scott Hahn to thank for that tidbit.) Antiochus IV, wicked to the last, died suddenly of disease and is remembered by all as one of the most evil, corrupt politicians of all time.

Fortunately, the Maccabees managed to reclaim the Temple during their revolt and remove the pagan influences placed there by Epiphanes.

Just a little over a century later, the Roman Consul Pompey took a stroll through the Holy of Holies in the Temple (which hardly any Jewish priest could do without desecrating it, let alone a pagan). You may recall from the film Cleopatra that Pompey’s head was later presented in a basket to Julius Caesar by Ptolemy, King of Egypt, after the former’s assassination. Caesar wasn’t very pleased with the gift.

Marcus Licinius Crassus, a Roman general with great avarice, raided the Temple treasury to add to his treasure, already the largest in Rome. He died in battle a year later.

Finally, the Roman Emperor Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD during the Siege of Jerusalem. Titus died of a fever but was deified by his own people, hardly a horribly dramatic death. It’s worth noting, however, that by that point, the Ark of the Covenant had been removed from the Temple for several centuries and Jesus Christ had already shifted the significance of God’s presence in the Temple to God’s presence in His own Body in the Incarnation (see John 2:13-22). Since Christ’s Body was also a Temple (the greatest of all Temples), we should take a look at what happened to the conspirators who put Him to death:

Judas - Committed suicide.
Herod Antipas - Exiled to modern Lyon, France for his many conspiracies against political contemporaries in attempts to gain greater power.
Caiaphas - Unknown
Annas - Unknown
Pontius Pilate - Probably the most interesting of the bunch. According to one apocryphal, early Christian document, Pilate was recalled by the Emperor Tiberius and sentenced to death for murdering Christ, whereupon he killed himself. His body was dumped in the Tiber, but tormented by demons, and consequently moved to Vienna, Austria, then to Lausanne, Switzerland, and finally to an ignominious pit in the Alps. However, Josephus states that Tiberius was dead before Pilate arrived in Rome (and on a different charge, at that, having nothing to do with Christ). Another early document indicates that Pilate repented and went to heaven, but the apology he makes is very weak and the story was probably concocted by the same sort of folks who tried to acquit Judas of any guilt. The Ethiopian Orthodox venerate Pontius Pilate as a saint. The western tradition is much less enthusiastic about a positive view of Pilate; in Dante’s Inferno, he resides on the shores of Acheron – not technically in hell – chased for all eternity by stinging insects.


I have to give credit to Wikipedia for a lot of this article, which helped me discover some facts I was missing (I verified them before writing) and put those facts into a more concise format, rather than jumping all over the Bible to cite passages.

14 Comments

  1. Brian Greaves /

    Hi Micah, Any info on which of the ransackers of the Temple actually took away the Ark of the Covenant? We see on Titus’ column that he took away the great candlearbra, and had the Ark been still there it also would have featured on the triumphant column. Surely those kings of Judah and Israel would not have done such a sacrilege, so would it have already gone at the Exile, otherwise Cyrus would have restored it to the Jews when he released them, since he was very helpful to them in getting their worship going again.

    • Brian,

      Protestants will sometimes debate the topic, but there’s not really much room for Catholics to debate the matter of the Ark’s current whereabouts. 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 details how the Prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave near the summit of Mt. Nebo. In Jeremiah’s words, “the place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy” (2:7). This is common apocalyptic language referring to the end times, although someone could read it as saying that the Ark would be revealed at the time of Christ. So either the Ark is still there, hidden away, or, if the passage was a reference to the first coming of Christ, the Ark could have been discovered and moved. It seems likely to me that the discovery of the Ark would have been a big deal in the time of Christ, as it would have become a rallying point for the Jews to rebel (then again, there was a massive rebellion a few decades after Christ). More likely, in my opinion, is that the Ark is simply lost to time, having been replaced by the Ark of the New Covenant, the Blessed Virgin (see Revelation 11:19-12:6).

      That said, the Ethiopian Orthodox claim to have the Ark of the Covenant in their possession. According to an ancient legend, Solomon had an affair with the Queen of Sheba (not an entirely unbelievable claim, seeing as he had 700 wives and 300 concubines) and sired a son, Menelik, who heard of his father’s greatness and later went on a journey to Jerusalem to swap out the real Ark with a counterfeit. This is highly unlikely and not much historical evidence exists, but it is an interesting claim.

      Sadly, there are also many crackpot theories about the Ark’s whereabouts, owing to its prominence in Freemasonry (many of the image results you can find on Google are from Freemason and other conspiracy sites).

  2. bill bannon /

    Great and hard work you’ve done. Thanks. Good men also die of disease and battle. The threat about destroying those who destroy the temple is quite simply…hell…not how they die though within Scripture I suspect deaths can be signals of damnation eg Jezebel and Herod of Acts 12… both killed by God or His rep in Jezebel’s case and both eaten by wildlife…dogs and worms respectively cf Anaias and Sapphira decently buried though killed by God.
    Certainty of hell though right now is politically incorrect within Catholicism…Von Balthasar, Rahner, …then John Paul II and Benedict on Judas. Do I agree with their spirit? No.

    • Yes, ultimately, hell is the destruction that would come upon those who destroy the Temple. Nevertheless, the Scriptures make clear that, although not all suffering results from personal sin (see John 9), many who commit grave sins are punished on this earth, at least as a visible sign and warning to others who might do the same.

      I take issue with your statement that it’s political correctness not to assume some very wicked people are in hell. Most people take issue with Von Balthasar because of his alleged universalism (I say alleged because my wife’s professor in her Balthasar class said it bas a misunderstanding based on a poor translation, but I’ve never studied him). It’s right to say not all are saved. It’s right to say few are saved. It is not, however, right to assume that any individual is in hell. You and I lack the capacity to judge that, as we are not privy to the final moments or secrets of a man’s mind and will. It has nothing to do with political correctness, but simple logic. We can’t assume conclusions without all the relevant facts.

      • bill bannon /

        We are not to judge those outside of Revelation according to Trent’s Council. But within Scripture ( Revelation) both Augustine and Chrysostom were sure of Judas’ damnation in sermons they gave unlike John Paul II in “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” and unlike Benedict in an Address that touched on Judas. Christ used a past tense prophecy about Judas in prayer to His Father ( ” not one of them perished but the son of perdition”… said prior to Judas sinning) and according to Justin Martyr…past tense prophecy is unconditional cf Isaiah 53:2 et al with Jonah’s conditional prophecy of Nineveh’s destruction in three days/ forty days Hebrew vs Septuagint.

        • You make good points, though I’m still uncertain I would agree. “Not one of them perished but the son of perdition” could be interpreted, I think, in terms of Judas’ apostasy at that point. Had Judas yet committed suicide? If I recall, the exact timing of his death is uncertain. Perhaps he repented. I admit it’s a stretch of the literary meaning, but it is a possible interpretation. What it comes down to is that I am unwilling to name any specific individual as hell-bound. I suppose there could be room to name those in Scripture. Thanks for shedding some light on that.

          • bill bannon /

            Christ also about Judas said, ” It were better for that man had he never been born.”. That cannot be said of anyone bound for heaven even through purgatory during which there is hope.
            Judas is in hell and that makes hell real which it is not if no one is there. Just a thought to ponder.

          • As I’ve already clarified, I believe, as Christ said, that the majority are in hell. You need not frame your response as if I believed no one was there and then give me “thoughts to ponder.” This is condescension, though I’ve been conciliatory toward you.

  3. Truth and Charity, I submit that in A D 70 Jesus destroyed the Temple. He is willing to take the responsibility. It was a teachable moment. the Temple was no longer The sacred place. The Jews would now be scattered to the winds as a sign. They would no longer hunt Christians through the streets of Israel. Jesus destroyed the Temple. Remember, it’s tough being a Roman Catholic. T. Picard

    • Historically speaking, the Romans destroyed the Temple. Naturally, God allowed it to happen for His reasons. Given the previous history of the Temple, your point is a fair one. When the Israelites abandoned God or the ones He sent, God often allowed them to be conquered. The destruction in 70 AD goes beyond that, though, I think. It was not merely that God allowed the destruction of the Temple. It was that the Temple had been superceded by Christ. Perhaps, in fact, that is why Titus didn’t die horribly: his offense was much less than Nebachudnezzar’s.

      • bill bannon /

        Seventy AD was God wielding the axe of Rome (Isaiah10:15 for that image) against Jerusalem. Many were younger generations than those who rejected Christ who said it would happen because Jerusalem had not known the time of its visitation and that preborns would be killed within them ( Lk.19:44) and because their sins were filled up Mt.23:32 ( precedent on completed sin re. Canaanites in Gen.15:16). Why the youngsters? Exodus 20:5. “for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me”. They no more went to hell than David’s baby who was killed for David’s sin. Relax. Only the original rejectors maybe went to hell depending on whom Christ encompassed in His prayer…” forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Maybe no one went to hell in 70 AD. But a sign was given that God is Lord besides being husband to His people.
        The biblical massacres were not simply the permissive will of God though Benedict’s Verbum Domini sect.42 and his appointed International Theological Commission ( none seem to have written prior on the herem) are at variance with Aquinas on that. I’ll stick with Aquinas and the obvious to me sections of Isaiah who is describing God’s active not simply permissive will here in a massacre:
        Isaiah 10
        5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations….15 Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! 16 Therefore, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors; under his pomp a fire will be kindled like a blazing flame. 17 The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers.”
        Likewise Jeremiah warns the Chaldeans that they are doing God’s work against the Moabites and will be cursed…punished by God if they hold back: Jer.48:10 ” Cursed are they who do the Lord’s work carelessly; cursed are they who hold back their sword from shedding blood.” Hardly simply the permissive will of God.
        In short God in Isaiah comes against Assyria not for conquering Samaria (His will) but for proceeding to the Southern Kingdom (not His will). God wields the axe…the invading army.
        In 70 AD Rome was God’s axe against Jerusalem but God swung the axe. This does not mean the 600,000 people ( Tacitus) or 1.1 million people ( Josephus) killed went to hell for rejecting Christ as noted above.

        • I think the rejection of Christ was ongoing, thus the negative mentions of Christ in later rabbinical teachings a couple generations after Christ. Of course, some of future generations would join the Christians, others wouldn’t.

          I’m willing to concede that many of those who conquered God’s people were doing God’s work at various points in history. Still, many of them did things that were unacceptable. Thus, as you said, the Assyrians were punished. Nebachudnezzar tried to force the Jews into paganism and was punished. The wars were just, so to speak, but not all the acts of war.

          I would argue, in agreement with you, that the destruction of the Temple was actively willed by God because the Temple was no longer necessary (and, in fact, was keeping people from God, inasmuch as it was serving as a point of unity for those who opposed Christ). This is what I hinted at in the article.

          Beyond that, it wasn’t my intention to say that those just acts in war were contrary to God’s active will. However, not all acts within those just contexts were God’s will.

  4. Truth and Charity, Whatever God does that appears to us as punishment is always the kindest thing God can do. Everything God does is precise as God knows precision. Always, it is Jesus Who expresses the Work and the Wisdom of God. Only Jesus is the window into the House of God. Forget about ever going over Jesus’ head. His Hand will direct each one of us either down or to gather about him on Judgment Day. He opens up the Life of the Trinity to us. Don’t trust any voice that suggests that Jesus will have served and then we can proceed to God the Father. Jesus is the Son of God. He reveals the Trinity. From His belly flows the living waters, everlasting. How we treat him is exactly how we treat the Father and the Holy Spirit. In your heart and your mind, please never forget this ! T Picard

    • bill bannon /

      Tony,
      If anyone press you on your first above sentence, remember Tobit 3:2…Douay Rheims….” Thou art just, O Lord, and all thy judgments are just, and ALL THY WAYS…mercy, and truth, and judgment.”

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