During Holy Week, Jesus (after clearing buyers and sellers out of the Temple courtyard) taught the crowds and debated with opponents. Temple authorities were investigating Jesus, hoping to trap him into some misstatement that would make them able to bring him to trial and convict him of some crime. Jesus overcame their verbal attacks, which only made them more frustrated and more determined to destroy him.
One day, after this verbal sparring, the disciples of Jesus pointed out to him the magnificence of the Temple. The building was, at that time, undergoing renovation, funded by the Herod family. Apparently trying to win some loyalty from the Jewish people, the Herod family was trying to give the second Temple the same splendor that Solomon’s Temple had displayed. Jesus seemed unimpressed by the large stones and beautiful artwork. Instead, he prophesied that the entire Temple would be destroyed. This prophecy was fulfilled forty years later when the Jews engaged in a war of rebellion against the Roman Empire. The prophecy of Jesus about the Temple prompted other questions from his disciples, with the result that Jesus gave them information about future history and about the coming Day of the Lord.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all report the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus, with Mark indicating that this cleansing took place on Monday of Holy Week. John does not mention this cleansing, but near the beginning of his Gospel he describes a different cleansing which Jesus accomplished early in his career. At that time, the authorities asked Jesus who gave him the right to kick people out of the Temple. He responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” These words of Jesus were misquoted at his trial Thursday night of Holy Week. John adds the detail that Jesus was speaking, not of the building in Jerusalem, but of his body, when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
How could the body of Jesus be a Temple? In the Bible and in other religions, a temple is a place where a god can be found. Temples are points of communication between gods and believers. Prayers and sacrifices are the key events in any temple. A temple is a physical structure which connects believers to their god. Therefore, the body of Jesus is a Temple. It is a physical structure in which God can be found. Jesus truly is God, so his physical body is a Temple of the true God.
In fact, the body of Jesus is more than “a Temple.” It is the Temple. The Tabernacle constructed in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, and used for centuries by the Israelites, was a picture of Jesus, the true Temple of God. Solomon’s Temple, modeled upon the Tabernacle, was a picture of Jesus. The second Temple, built during the Persian rule and then renovated by the Herod family, was a picture of Jesus. All of these buildings were physical access points to God, but only through Jesus can people come to God the Father.
Because it is a physical structure, a Temple can be destroyed. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans. In both occasions, the destruction of the Temple was recognized by God’s people as judgment by God, rejection of his people because of their sins. The physical body of Jesus was also destroyed. After a series of brutal beatings, that body was nailed to a cross and killed. In this destruction also the judgment of God is seen—his wrath against sin and against sinners. Yet Jesus never sinned. God the Father saw the sins of the world upon Jesus and treated Jesus as sin itself. By this exchange, sinners are now free from guilt, rescued from God’s wrath, and made able to approach the throne of God and even to call him Father.
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” When the Romans destroyed the Temple building in Jerusalem, it remained destroyed. To this day it has not been rebuilt. The true Temple, though, the physical body of Jesus Christ, was restored. He was tortured and killed on Friday, but Sunday morning he was alive again. Now he lives and reigns to all eternity, and death has no power over him. He shares that victory with all who trust in him. He remains the true Temple, every believer’s access to God. No other Temple is needed. J.