Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jesus Is the Eschatological Temple

Jesus’ response in John 2:19 to the Jewish religious authorities who challenged him after he had cleared the temple continues the theme in John 1–2 of Jesus being the eschatological temple. Jesus’ clearing of the temple was a provocative act that challenged the authority of the temple authorities. They responded by asking Jesus on what authority he had been acting in the way that he had: “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18).

Jesus answered his opponents by pointing to his resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus’ sign was the sign of the destruction of “this temple” and the rebuilding of it in the space of three days.

The narrator explains in John 2:21 that the phrase this temple was used by Jesus to refer to the “temple” of his body. But at the time, with Jesus still situated in the Jewish temple precincts, Jesus’ words were deliberately ambiguous. John 2:22 indicates that the true meaning of Jesus’ words at this point only became clear with hindsight after the resurrection.

At the time, however, Jesus’ opponents did not understand that Jesus was referring to the “temple” of his own body. Given this lack of insight, it is understandable that the authorities incredulously said to him: “This temple was built over forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20). Jesus’ opponents naturally thought that he had been talking about the physical temple. Starting around the year 20–19 B.C., it had taken Herod 46 years to renovate the temple. But Jesus had in mind the destruction of the temple of his body, and its rebuilding in the space of three days. This would be the sign of his authority to reform the worship of God as part of his ministry.

So Jesus was pointing to his resurrection as being proof (yet in the future) of his authority. But at the same time, by picturing his body in the figure of a temple, Jesus was hinting at the fact that he himself is the fulfillment of the temple theme of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the physical temple was a key symbol of God’s presence with his people. God had fellowship with his people at the temple. It was there at the temple that the people’s sins could be forgiven, and the way opened up for them to come into the presence of God. But because of Israel’s disobedience, the first temple (the temple of Solomon) was destroyed. After the Babylonian exile, the temple was rebuilt, but the glory of God never returned to the temple. The second temple was like a shell, waiting for the return of God’s glory. It is significant, therefore, that John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as being the revelation of God’s glory to Israel (see John 1:14). The coming of Jesus constitutes the return of God’s glory to the temple. In addition, the fact that Jesus could talk about his resurrection in terms of the rebuilding of “this temple” suggests that Jesus viewed himself as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament theme of temple.

John’s Gospel forcefully states the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the eschatological temple. The building of the eschatological temple of Ezek 40–48, which is a metaphorical picture of the eternal state, would be achieved through the resurrection of Jesus. This is consistent with the view of the Apostle Paul that (through his resurrection) Jesus was the cornerstone of the “holy temple in the Lord … the dwelling place of God in the Spirit,” of which the saints form the ediface, built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2:20–22). Jesus’ death on the cross represents the destruction of the old symbolic temple, and his resurrection to life represents the creation of the new, true temple. In the light of this temple-building function of resurrection, it makes sense that Jesus would drive people out of the old temple as a sign that, through his death and resurrection, a new temple was about to be built in order to bring about spiritual reformation for the sake of the establishment of the proper worship of God.

The Gospel of John presents Jesus as being the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament tabernacle/temple theme. Jesus is the eschatological temple through whom full atonement is made for human sin, allowing humanity (as they follow Jesus) to enter into the presence of God and live.

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