Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“"Destroy This Temple..."”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

For the last three weeks, we’ve considered the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, the ensuing captivity, the promised restoration, and what it all meant for God’s people—both the Israelites and their spiritual counterparts, the “sons of Abraham” who lay claim to that heritage through faith in Christ (Ga 3.7).  This time, we’ll examine the mystery foreshadowed by the Israelites’ experiences, centuries before Jesus walked the earth.


Just as he was beginning his earthly ministry, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and its rebuilt Temple, to worship his Father and celebrate the Passover.  When he arrived, he found his Father’s house treated as “a house of trade” (Jn 2.16), and forcibly drove the merchants and money-changers out.  Unsurprisingly, the authorities who were responsible for maintaining order at the Temple, were displeased that this country bumpkin took it upon himself to upset the established order of things.  They asked Jesus, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (V18).  To us, this reads like a request to see a miracle—and that may be exactly what the authorities meant.  But even if they meant the word, “sign,” more generally, it amounts to a threat: unless you can show us clear evidence of authority, you will pay the penalty!  Jesus’ response is certainly not what they were expecting: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v19). 


From our perspective, this side of the cross, it’s fairly obvious what he meant, even if John hadn’t explained it two verses later, “he was speaking about the temple of his body.” But what did the Jewish authorities think?  Their retort, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,” had to do with the thorough renovation, begun nearly two decades before Jesus’ birth, and recently completed.  But his prediction, inasmuch as it concerned the Temple in Jerusalem, went back much farther into its history.  The first word, “Destroy,” had nothing to do with the renovation, and much to do with what had happened more than 600 years before, to Solomon’s Temple.  Jesus invites such a calamity to occur again, but says that, unlike the 70-year gap between the First Temple’s destruction and the Second’s completion, it would take only three days for Jesus to rebuild it, himself!


From a human perspective, and with the physical Temple in mind, this is patently absurd; and that was the point.  The authorities didn’t know whether he was an over-the-top boaster, was mocking them, or was just a plain, old nut.  But it was none of the above.  What Jesus told them was not so very different from what the Old Testament prophets had told Israel.  For example,

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord  shall rest upon him…

(Isaiah 11.1-2)

This prediction concerned the same person, Jesus, but is obviously figurative, using the physical analogy of a tree stump sending out new shoots, in order to tie this promised Anointed One with their history, calling him a descendant of David’s father, Jesse.


When Jesus called his body “this temple,” it wasn’t just an odd way of referring to himself.  Rather, it was an invocation of the awful history that played out, centuries prior, in the very same location where he and the authorities then stood.  Why?  Because Jesus’ life as a man was God’s Presence among us, as Isaiah had prophesied:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

(Matthew 1.22-23)

The Temple also represented God’s Presence in Israel’s midst, fulfilling his promise, “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Ex 29.45).  What a wonderful thing, to be desired, and celebrated!  Israel recognized this from the start.  When, after their disobedience at the foot of Mt Sinai (the first occasion in a long line), God told them “I will not go up among you,” meaning that his promise was made void by their failure to keep their side of the covenant, the people considered it a “disastrous word,” and they “mourned” (Ex 33.3-4).  Through Moses’ intercession, God and Israel reconciled and renewed their covenant, but eventually they drove his Presence away through their disobedience, and his earthly house was destroyed.  Now, despite patching up that part of the covenant, those Israelites’ descendants were preparing to drive God’s Presence away, again.  And it was an even greater catastrophe, this time.  This time, the sting of guilt would be even worse.  This time, they would murder God’s own Son.

The crown has fallen from our head;

        woe to us, for we have sinned!

For this our heart has become sick…

(Lamentations 5.16-17)

So far, we’ve only looked at the first part of Jesus’ prediction, that they would “Destroy this temple.”  We know that the story wasn’t going to end with this, and we’ll consider the long night of despair, as well as the great light of the coming day, next week.  For now, consider the magnitude of the sin committed by the Jewish leaders who, just like their ancestors, had God’s Presence among them, but refused to love, trust, and obey him, and drove him away.  Will you do the same?

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

(Hebrews 6.4-6)