Jesus the Temple

Jesus answered and said unto them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews therefore said, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou raise it up in three days?”
But he spake of the temple of his body (John 2:19-21).

The carpenter’s Son seemed to really overdo it this time.

The Temple in Jerusalem was the greatest building project of the age. The second Temple, built in the days of the Persians, was not much of a spectacle (Ezra 3:12), but Herod wanted to project his power, his “Jewishness,” and his glory, and in the eighteenth year of his reign, around 20-19 BCE, began to rebuild the Temple (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.11.1). While the Holy Place itself was done after a year and a half, work on other buildings would continue for a long time. As the text in John says, 46 years later, thus around 27 CE, it was still not entirely finished. According to Josephus, it would only be completed in the days of Agrippa and Florus, around 64 CE, 84 years after it had been started (ibid., 20.9.7). It was a marvelous piece of architecture according to all accounts (cf. Mark 13:1).

And yet here is Jesus of Nazareth saying, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

It seems so ridiculous– how could such a thing be? The Jews are quite dismissive. His disciples are more than likely confused (cf. John 2:22). Ultimately, a garbled account of this event will be used as an accusation against Jesus at His trial (Mark 14:58).

We know that if He so desired Jesus could have done what everyone around Him had imagined Him saying– through God’s power He could have destroyed Herod’s Temple and to re-establish it three days later. But this is not what Jesus meant. This is not the sign that Jesus will show to indicate His Messiahship (cf. John 2:18). As usual, Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter.

What is a temple, anyway? A temple, as Jesus knew well, is the place where people believe a divinity dwells. The original Temple in Jerusalem was most often called the “House of YHWH,” for it was where God established that His name would dwell (cf. 1 Kings 9:3). The Temple’s value had everything to do with God’s Presence. If God’s Presence was in the Temple, then the Temple served its purpose. If God’s Presence departed from the Temple, it was just another building.

Yet now something greater than the Temple was present (cf. Matthew 12:6). The Word, being with God and God Himself, became flesh and dwelt among mankind (John 1:1, 14). God’s presence was “in” Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:18, Luke 4:1, 14). He was the true Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:22). The body of His flesh contained the presence of God!

Therefore, Jesus is not speaking of Herod’s Temple when He makes His grand declaration of John 2:19. Instead, He is talking, as John says, about the “temple of His body” (John 2:21). Those very Jews would work to accomplish the sign: they would put Jesus to death, destroying that temple (cf. Matthew 26-27, John 18-19), and three days later, God raised Him up in the resurrection (Matthew 28, John 20). All had come to pass.

John indicates that the disciples remembered His saying after His resurrection and believed firmly in Jesus (John 2:22). They now understood Jesus’ powerful message, echoed in John 4:20-24. Temples were no longer about physical structures– in Jesus we return to the original idea of the temple, the location in which God’s Presence dwells. What Jesus said about His physical body now holds true for His spiritual body. The spiritual Body of Christ is His church (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18, 24), and the church is described in a figure as a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:4-5). This is only possible because the church represents the body of Christ, the dwelling place of God.

Paul goes further in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, declaring that Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit Who is within them, and thus they are to glorify God in their bodies. What was true of Jesus then is now, in a sense, true of us if we are His disciples. God’s Presence is said to dwell with believers (Romans 8:9-11, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and thus we are temples ourselves. Let us be sanctified in God’s Presence and seek after His will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Existing in God

“And [God] made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: ‘for in him we live, and move, and have our being’; as certain even of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring'” (Acts 17:26-28).

Paul has quite the challenge before him: to explain to pagans obsessed with philosophy the nature of the God of Israel, the One True God, and Jesus His Son. In order to have any level of success, Paul must persuade his audience to look at God differently than they had in the past. There were not a multiplicity of gods who were represented by statues, needing the service of men (cf. Acts 17:22-25). In a brilliant and yet ironic move, Paul speaks regarding the nature of the One True God by quoting a Greek, most likely Epimenides of Crete: in God “we live and move and have our being.” As Aratus said in the Phainomena, “we are His offspring.” God, therefore, is not an image in the likeness of man or animal. God is something quite different. God is the Creator of the earth and all that is in it, and, in truth, God is not far from any of us (Acts 17:26-27).

This is a lesson that needs to be proclaimed again today, for even though people may not think of the pagan deities when they think about “God” anymore, people’s view of God and the way God really is remains different.

Think for a moment about how you consider God. The thinking of the past two hundred years have led many people to think of God as distant and remote. In such a view, perhaps God did create everything– but ever since He has stayed away. Many religious people– many who believe in Jesus– will grant that God actively and personally worked throughout the early part of human history, even within the first century of our era. But ever since God has kept His distance, in a sense. The image of God in the parable of the talents has been taken quite literally– God has gone on a far journey, and we are on our own until He decides to return, and then comes the judgment (cf. Matthew 25:14-30).

This image of God reigns supreme in societal thinking. God, especially the God revealed in the Bible, is portrayed as an old man “up there,” distant and remote. If He does have anything to do with His creation, it involves condemnation and chastisement for wickedness. To not a few, Gary Larson’s portrayal of God sitting at His computer, ready to hit the “smite” button and kill a young man with a falling piano, is not too far off the mark.

Paul would not recognize such a God– neither would any Israelite or Christian of the first century. That might be some pagan view of God, but it is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is not the God who sent Jesus His Son into the world.

The One True God is not distant and remote. Yes, we must seek after Him, but, as Paul says, He is not far from us. We exist in Him. We live and move in Him. We cannot understand this in a concretely physical sense, but it also cannot be seen as true in some remote spiritual context. It is true in a very near spiritual context. When Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” in Matthew 18:20, He is talking about a spiritual presence, but a presence that is “present” nonetheless!

The Israelites did not waver in their belief that God was with them; all they had to do was look toward the Tabernacle or the Temple and see the cloud of the Presence and understand that God was there (cf. Exodus 40:34). This same imagery is used to describe the people of God today– Christians (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19-20). If believers, individually and corporately, are the Temple, then God’s presence must be with them, as the Scriptures indeed attest. The same is established in Romans 8:9-11. The message of the New Testament is unambiguous: if we are God’s people, then God is with us. This does not mean that a remote and distant spiritual figure far away in the heavens has accepted us. It means that the Creator of the universe is actively working with us and seeking to benefit us in ways we cannot imagine (cf. Romans 8:31-33, Ephesians 3:20-21). When the New Testament declares that Jesus is Lord, this is not to mean that we have a distant and remote ruler. It means that no matter how terrible it may seem on the surface, Jesus is really in control, and blessings will come to those who obey Him (cf. Revelation 12-19)!

There is much that is mysterious about the nature of God and His Presence. We know that God does not abrogate man’s will, and we understand that speaking of God’s presence in “literal,” “concrete,” or “physical” ways are misguided. Nevertheless, we should not allow the humanistic thinking over the past few hundred years to re-define the nature of God for us. Instead, we must understand who God is on the basis of what He has revealed. He is not far from us. He is not the distant and remote figure that our society has made Him out to be. Instead, in Him we live and move and have our being. If we are His people, His Presence is with us. Let us be thankful that our God is not remote, but is very much near, and praise His name!

Ethan R. Longhenry