Meditating on Great Themes in John: 5. The Temple Rebuilder?
John 2:19-22 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
This is not so much a great theme as an insight and recognition of the symbolic language that Jesus sometimes used to speak a truth but not in a way that many would understand. John has given us the multifaceted chapter 1 and then turned to a miraculous sign to show us that he is a life transformer and now he relates an incident that happened at the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem and we may wonder what was the link or what was the train of thought that was going through John’s mind as he possibly dictated this Gospel to one of his younger disciples.
So what happened? Our problem, I suggest is that we so focus on the drama of this incident that we fail to take note of the key significant thing that comes out of it, that is in fact the link to what has just gone before. So the drama. Jesus arrives in the temple and is horrified to see that it is a veritable market place: “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” (v.14,15)
Now we should note that this happens in the first year of his three year ministry in John, whereas it appears in the last weeks of his ministry in the Synoptic Gospels. It is logical to suggest that it did in fact happen twice. It is the start of his ministry and because he would have been to Jerusalem many times as he grew up, and had attended Passover celebrations there many times no doubt, he would have known what was going on. Sacrifices were required in the temple and the authorities had made it easy for people to buy them there rather than have to bring them any distance from home. It also made money for the Temple authorities. Jesus wouldn’t have acted previously because his ministry has a clear beginning (with baptism and temptation and anointing) and so this is the first time he has been there since that. It is unlikely that he would not have acted until the last weeks only, because the cause of his indignation was clearly there the whole time of those three years.
It is probable that he did it at the start of his ministry because he is now moving under his Father’s authority and it is probable that the temple remained ‘cleansed’ for the next year or so and then gradually reverted back to the market approach by the time of his final Passover, when his cleansing of it would now act as a good means of provocation to stir the authorities against him to bring about the events of Good Friday.
What is interesting here is the response of the authorities. They want to know his authority. They don’t so much deny it is wrong but want to know who he thinks he is. So, “the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (v.18) It is at this point that Jesus comes out with this enigmatic statement: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (v.19) Now three things must follow logically from this: First, he is a deluded maniac who is just talking rubbish and can be ignored as such. Second, if he means recreating the physical temple in three days, he is claiming divinity, because only God could perform such a miracle. They have just asked for a miraculous sign to verify his authority and if he did that, that would certainly be a miraculous sign. Third, he obviously means something else but what that is they don’t know. Certainly references so far to a temple always made you think of the physical building.
John adds the insight of the years: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (v.21,22) They subsequently realise that he was speaking about his own resurrection. So how does that link with what John has told us in the first half of chapter two?
There we saw Jesus the life transformer, as he transformed water into wine. Here we see Jesus the life bringer, and that is in respect of human beings. He doesn’t only transform things and situations, he has the ability to transform human beings. If he can transform a dead body and bring it back to life, then he can transform anybody. More specifically, in the spiritual realm, he can take spiritually dead people and bring them to spiritual life and that is exactly what happens, of course, when someone is born again. Ah, there is the link to chapter three!