Summary John 2:13-25: As Jesus begins his ministry, he cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. In the first century, the temple had become a commerce center during Jewish holy days and so Jesus will drive the merchants out from the temple in verses 13-17. In verses 18-22, we see the response to Jesus
John 2:18: So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
That is not an inherently absurd question. Jesus is driving people out of the temple, and so they want to know how his actions are justified. It seems like they expected some grand miracle.
Instead, Jesus tells them of a future sign which he will perform.
Verse 19: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus says that’s the sign he can do.
20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
The religious authorities look to how long it’s taken to build the temple and it therefore seems absurd that Jesus could possibly raise it in three days.
They miss the point.
Rebuilding the temple
At the time of Jesus, the temple in Jerusalem was actually still under construction. I always thought it was complete and when they talk about 46 years, they’re referring to how long it took to complete the work.
Little bit of history.
The Jewish people built a temple during the reign of Solomon. That’s the first temple. It was destroyed in 586 B.C. when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians.
About a century later, reconstruction began of the second temple. That temple was pretty modest, and it saw a major renovation which began around the year 19 B.C.
In other words, the major renovation BEGAN about 46 years before Jesus cleanses the temple here in John 2.
By the time of Jesus, they’re saying that construction had been under way for 46 years.
Construction would not be complete until 63 A.D. which was some 35 years after the time of Jesus.
I point that out because 46 years is a long time. But the actual temple renovation took more like 80 years.
And if it sounded absurd that someone could rebuild in just three days what had taken 46 years, imagine it from their perspective in the first century as they looked at a temple that was still being renovated. And someone saying he could build that in three days.
The authorities don’t challenge Jesus’ claim. But Jesus isn’t referring to the building anyway.
John makes that explicitly clear in the next verses.
21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Jesus is the temple and he’s referring to his death and resurrection.
Jesus died and rose on the third day.
Jesus is the true temple
The significance of the temple in the Bible is that the temple is the place where God is with his people.
That’s why the temple was so important in the Old Testament.
When Jesus says “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19, yes, it’s referring to his death and resurrection. But it is also pointing to Jesus as the greater temple.
The temple was just a building. Merchants could encroach upon the holiness of the temple. But in Jesus, we have an incorruptible temple, an incorruptible savior through whom we are brought into the presence of the Lord.
And we are again reminded of that death that Jesus would die for sin.
In chapter 1, we see Jesus called the Lamb of God (John 1:29), referring to his sacrificial death. In John 2:4, Jesus pointed forward to his crucifixion.
This book is constantly pointing to his death.
Eight full chapters of John are dedicated to the final week of Jesus’ life.
Why so much about his death?
Abraham Lincoln’s two secretaries John Hay and John Nicolay wrote an expansive biography about our 16th president. It’s 5,000 pages and they talk about his death on just 20 of those pages.
Between the four gospels, roughly one third to one half of the books are devoted to Jesus’ death.
Why? Why is there this constant focus on his death? Because it is the only way to redemption. It is the only way to God. It is the only way to forgiveness. It is the only way to heaven.
There’s no other way than through the presence of God on earth who was torn down and raised back up three days later.
Jesus cleanses the temple but in cleansing the temple, it points to himself as the temple who does not need cleansed.
The temple was always meant to point to Jesus.
In the Old Testament, you have all of these exact specifications for the temple, and its precursor, the tabernacle. You have dramatic Old Testament texts which talk of the presence of God filling the temple. You have Israel who continues to fall into sin and idolatry, in spite of warnings from God’s prophets. Eventually they’re conquered, they’re exiled, they lose the land, the temple is destroyed.
They would later be freed from exile and given the command to rebuild the temple.
But all of that is pointing forward to the true temple.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It was the unmitigated presence of God. And humanity sinned. Paradise was lost.
God gave the law through Moses. Humanity continued to sin and God continued to be faithful.
The temple was built and sin continued. The temple was lost.
And on the grounds of a new temple, we again see sin. We see people dishonoring a holy place.
Left to our own devices, we’ll continue to lose the temple, to squander God’s grace because we’re sinful.
But instead of having a building which represents the presence of God, we’re given a person.
Jesus Christ, the eternal God of creation himself becomes the temple. We are welcomed back into the garden because Jesus left heaven. We are welcomed into the presence of God because Jesus was forsaken. We are invited into the presence of God because Jesus is the true temple.
We are given grace which cannot be lost because it was bought by a savior who does not sin.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Jesus came to be with us so that we could be with him.
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