For the Love of God, Volume 1/March 12
From Gospel Translations
Exodus 23; John 2; Job 41; 2 Corinthians 11
WHEN THE JEWISH LEADERS question Jesus’ right to cleanse the temple as he did, and demand that he provide some authority for his action, he replies, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19).
Only John’s gospel records this early exchange. According to the Synoptics, at Jesus’ trial this utterance was vaguely recalled by those who wanted him done away with on the capital charge of temple desecration. That their memories of the event were a little fuzzy accords well with the fact that Jesus uttered these words at the beginning of his ministry, perhaps two years and more before his arrest and trial.
But what did Jesus mean by these words? His opponents thought he was referring to the literal temple, and judged his claim ludicrous (2:20). According to John, not even the disciples understood what he was talking about at the time. When John wrote his gospel, of course, he knew, and he records his conclusion: “But the temple he had spoken of was his body” (2:21). But he faithfully records, “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” (2:22). Several things follow:
(1) John is often accused of anachronism, of reading back into the time of Jesus events and beliefs that developed only later. This is singularly unlikely. No evangelist is more persistent than John (at least sixteen times) in carefully distinguishing what the disciples understood back then (during Jesus’ ministry) and what they understood only later.
(2) The turning point in their understanding of Jesus’ words was the combination of his resurrection from the grave, and a fresh grasp of and belief in the Scripture (2:22). Because Jesus died and rose again, they were forced to think of Jesus the Messiah in more than merely regal or triumphal categories. Both the events and Jesus’ own tutelage of them taught them that the Messiah was to be not only the Davidic King, but the Suffering Servant. The old covenant mandate of a priestly system, sacrifices, a day of atonement, a Passover lamb, a peculiar temple constructed to a specific design laid down by God himself—all forced them to recognize that their earlier reading of Scripture (what we call the Old Testament) had been terribly reductionistic. Now they could see that the Old Testament temple, the meeting place between God and his covenant people, pointed to the ultimate “meeting place,” the ultimate Mediator. Jesus would occupy this role by virtue of his death and resurrection—the “temple” would be destroyed, and rebuilt.
(3) Jesus himself is the source of this “hermeneutic,” this way of reading Old Testament Scripture.