John 2:13-25. Temple – part 1

John 2:13    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18    The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19    Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20    They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 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.

23    Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.  25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

This is the first of three Passover festivals that Jesus attends at Jerusalem during the time of his public ministry (see also Jn 6 and Jn 13). The Passover remembered God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt. Central to this celebration was the sacrifice of a lamb.

It seems that the large outer courtyard of the temple, the court of the Gentiles, had become a thriving marketplace serving pilgrims who needed to buy animals for sacrifice. The activity taking place there was not without justification. The general principle of exchanging money for goods to eat or sacrifice at the temple was set up in Deut 14:22-27. The use of temple currency was intended to keep the Roman coinage, with its homage to Caesar and foreign gods, outside the temple precinct. The problem was that this marketplace activity had completely taken over the only area a Gentile could draw near to God for prayer. Instead of offering a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isa 56:7) the temple markets were rife with extortion and rip-off merchants.

And so, in a display of righteous anger, Jesus disrupts the market and throws out the traders. In response, the Jews ask for a ‘sign of authority’. It seems that Jesus already has a reputation for signs, such that he would be asked for one to verify his prophetic action here. ‘Signs’ continue to be central to this gospel’s testimony to Jesus (note also v23).

Jesus’s reply in verse 19 is cryptic, explained only by John in verse 21. Destroy this temple– his body– and he will raise it again in three days. The connection between the two requires explanation. The Jerusalem temple represented God’s presence among his people. He lived in their midst. Although his greatness and glory could never be contained by the temple, it was a point of address. A person interacted with God through prayer and sacrifice at the temple. His word was taught at the temple. In short, for Israel, the temple was Emmanuel– “God with us”. And now Jesus– God with us– would completely supersede the temple and all its sacrificial functions. What ‘sign’ does Jesus offer? His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ replacement of the temple’s significance and function continues today in a surprising way. The church has been joined to Jesus as ‘the body of Christ’, animated by the Holy Spirit. His disciples, the Christian community, have become that temple; representing the living presence of God, revealing his glory to humanity!  (see 1Cor 12:27; 1Cor 6:19-20).

This realisation changes my relationships with other Christians, as they become the vehicle for revealing the glory of God to the world. The life of my local church is as near as many people will come to experiencing Jesus Christ. Reconciliation and forgiveness with other Christians now become a priority. Love– of the kind that Jesus demonstrated– is the new currency of ‘the temple’.

Gracious God, please change me that I might truly demonstrate what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, that body which is your temple. Transform my local church more and more to become a ‘spiritual household’, a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.