The Linen Cloths

Simon Peter therefore also cometh, following him, and entered into the tomb; and he beholdeth the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, that was upon his head, not lying with the linen cloths, but rolled up in a place by itself (John 20:6-7).

The action is heating up; the story is reaching its climax. The action becomes the focus of the story; extraneous details would just clutter the story, detracting and distracting from the important events taking place. Yet the details that are given prove all the more necessary to ground the story. So it is with John’s narrative of the resurrection.

John relates the events of that Sunday morning in John 20:1-18. In those eighteen verses Mary arrives at the tomb, sees it empty, goes back to tell Peter and John, who themselves run to the tomb, see it empty, then leave, and then Mary (who ostensibly has come back along with Peter and John) looks in again, speaks to angels, speaks to the risen Jesus, and then goes back to the disciples to announce the Lord’s resurrection. This passage is certainly marked by unrelenting action!

Some details are provided despite the fast pace of the story, and one particular detail is associated with Peter and John’s visitation to the tomb in John 20:4-7 (as well as in terms of Peter in Luke 24:12): the othonion, the linen cloths, were lying on the ground, and the soudarion, normally a handkerchief but also used to cover the head of a corpse (cf. Luke 19:20, John 11:44, Acts 19:12), was in its own place and rolled up. They were the only things left in the otherwise empty tomb.

Today we tend to dress up the dead in their best clothing or in some sort of clothing most special to them. In first century Judea it was customary to wrap the dead body in strips of linen cloths (othonion) and covering the face with the soudarion. John pointed out how Jesus’ body was wrapped in the linen cloths with plenty of aloes and spices by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 19:40). It is clear that both Peter and John found it odd that the linen cloths and the face-cloth were left behind, and it certainly made an impression on them; John includes the detail in his Gospel, and if Luke had spoken with Simon Peter in writing his Gospel (Luke 1:1-3), it is reasonable to believe that Peter would have also mentioned that detail. But why is it so noteworthy?

The presence of the linen cloths and face-cloth are highly emphasized in defenses of the resurrection of Jesus; it is the reason Peter and John saw and believed Jesus was raised from the dead even though they had not yet understood how the Scriptures had spoken of it (John 20:8). We must keep in mind that a Roman guard was present at the tomb (Matthew 27:64-66); if Jesus’ body had been stolen away from the tomb, it would make no sense to unwrap all the linen cloths and the face-cloth, roll up the face-cloth, and then run away with the body; every additional second of the heist would increase the odds of being seen and/or captured in the act. Grave robbers would just take the body with the linen cloths to their lair and then take it all apart. Even if the story the soldiers said after being paid off to say it had any truth, that the disciples stole the body while they slept (Matthew 28:11-15), it would make no sense for them to leave the linen cloths; how long would it have taken before some of the Roman soldiers would wake up (as if they would ever be caught sleeping, the punishment for which was normally death!)? The best explanation for the presence of the linen cloths is that the One wrapped in it took them off and carefully rolled up the face-cloth and set it aside as He departed. The linen cloths and the face-cloth do provide a wonderful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus!

Thus Jesus left the linen cloths and face-cloth as He departed the tomb in the resurrection. Did He just leave them to prove He is risen from the dead? Or is there perhaps greater meaning and significance to the linen cloths?

And YHWH said unto Moses, “Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the mercy-seat which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat. Herewith shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat, and he shall have the linen breeches upon his flesh, and shall be girded with the linen girdle, and with the linen mitre shall he be attired: they are the holy garments; and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and put them on…And Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and shall put off the linen garments, which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave them there: and he shall bathe his flesh in water in a holy place, and put on his garments, and come forth, and offer his burnt-offering and the burnt-offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people” (Leviticus 16:2-4, 23-24).

In Leviticus 16 God provides legislation regarding the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the only day on which the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place to make atonement first for his own sins and then for the sins of Israel (cf. Hebrews 9:1-7). The High Priest would wear special consecrated linen garments for the occasion, and after he would depart from the Most Holy Place he would take off those consecrated garments, purify himself with water, and then put on other garments to continue to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel. Therefore the linen garments which the High Priest wore into the Most Holy Place to offer blood for the atonement of Israel were only to be worn there and then taken off.

As the Hebrew author makes clear in Hebrews 7:1-9:28, Jesus is our new High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, having secured atonement through the offering of Himself. Through the details he provides about Jesus’ resurrection John is telling the same story. The angels sat where Jesus’ head and feet lay, evoking the cherubim over the mercy-seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant, placed in the Most Holy Place and where the High Priest would take that blood (John 20:11-12; cf. Exodus 25:18-22, Leviticus 16:11-16, 1 Kings 6:23-28). In this way the empty tomb is as the Most Holy Place; Jesus’ body is not just the sacrifice that makes the rock slab holy since His body lay upon it, but is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant itself, bearing witness to the covenant God is establishing with all mankind through Him, and the One in whom God is communing with mankind (Leviticus 6:26-29, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 1:1-3, 10:5-10). Therefore, the presence of the linen cloths is fitting; as the High Priest in the order of Aaron would take off his garment once he had provided the blood for atonement in the Most Holy Place, so Jesus as our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek left His linen cloths behind after He had finished making atonement in the fulfillment of the Most Holy Place, the temple of His body (cf. John 2:20-22, Hebrews 9:1-14). The Hebrew author speaks of all of this in terms of Jesus’ death; John reminds us that His resurrection is no less important for our atonement. In the resurrection and upon His ascension He is declared the Son of God, the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Lord, and Christ (Romans 1:4; cf. Psalm 110:1-7, Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus’ death for forgiveness of sins remains crucial yet incomplete without “the rest of the story.” John makes this powerfully clear with the details he provides in his account of the resurrection.

The linen cloths were left behind; our High Priest has offered Himself as the atonement for our sins and was accepted before the Father. The tomb is otherwise empty; He is Risen; He is Lord. Let us be ever thankful for the atonement of our High Priest and let us serve Him in His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

A Den of Robbers

Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods that ye have not known, and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered;’ that ye may do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” saith the LORD (Jeremiah 7:8-11).

The people of Judah were about to learn the disastrous consequences of their misplaced confidence.

For generations the people of Israel had served all sorts of gods. Yes, the prophets persistently warned them against serving the gods of the nations, and to avoid their practices abhorrent to YHWH, yet they were still in the land of Israel, a Davidic king was on the throne, and in their minds, YHWH would most assuredly glorify His name against the nations. After all, in the days of Hezekiah, did YHWH not deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria? If YHWH protected His city, His house, and His people from the Assyrians, He would surely do the same from the Babylonians. The people of Judah looked to the existence of the Temple as their refuge and protection from danger; such was their confidence in YHWH.

The people of Judah had good reason to trust in YHWH, but they really did not trust in YHWH, for they did not pursue after Him alone. Even when they did not introduce abominations into the Temple itself, they still practiced abominations, but then expected to find refuge and forgiveness in the Temple of YHWH. Thus God sent Jeremiah to warn the people regarding the folly of their position: just because YHWH delivered Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah does not mean that He will do the same again. The people of Judah treat the Temple as thieves treat their den: they may not commit terrible sins there, but they seek refuge there from the sins they commit elsewhere, and perhaps even seek to enjoy comfort from the fruit of their iniquity there. When the place where YHWH and His name are to be glorified becomes a place where the people of God seek YHWH’s protection despite not trusting in Him alone, that place becomes a stumbling block. Within a generation the city of YHWH was cast down, His house destroyed, and His people led away to Babylon. It pained YHWH to see it, yet Israel gave Him no recourse: they abused God’s concern for them and treated it as license to continue as they always had been.

The Jews of the first century CE would learn the same lesson. As Jeremiah warned the people of Judah regarding the imminent demise of the first Temple, so Jesus warned the Jews regarding the imminent demise of the second: as He entered Jerusalem in triumph, He ritually cleansed the Temple, and in so doing declared that the people had made YHWH’s house of prayer into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46). No doubt Jesus has some concern regarding how the money-changers exploited the people and how such profiteering in the Temple did make it an actual den of robbers. Yet Jesus’ allusion to Jeremiah’s words would not have been lost on the Temple authorities, the Sadducees and chief priests, who perceived Jesus’ threat to the entire Temple establishment and thus their center of power, and they proved pivotal in engineering the conspiracy which led to Jesus’ death (cf. Luke 19:47-48). Nevertheless, Jesus’ witness was appropriate: many of the Jews had seen how their ancestors had overthrown the rule of the pagan Seleucids and were convinced that they could do the same against the Romans. Their confidence remained in the Temple and how YHWH would not allow the pagan Romans to overthrow that Temple. Yet in the process they rejected Jesus their Messiah and followed after those who taught lies, and within a generation of Jesus’ death Jerusalem was again destroyed and the Temple razed to the ground, never to be built again.

The logic used by the people of Israel is always tempting: YHWH is our God, YHWH is forgiving, YHWH will get glory over His enemies, so YHWH will protect His people no matter what. It is true that YHWH is God, that YHWH loves His people, and always proves faithful (cf. Romans 8:1-39), but YHWH is also holy, righteous, just, and does not provide cover for persistent sin (Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 Peter 1:16-17)! God’s judgment begins with His own household (1 Peter 4:17-19), and we do well to learn that lesson.

There is no longer a physical Temple, but God’s presence remains among His people, individually and collectively, through the presence of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:14-16, 6:19-20, 1 Peter 2:3-5). How shall we treat the place where God maintains His presence? God expects the body and the church to be holy places, used in sanctification for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:23-33). Yet we are tempted to turn them into dens of robbers, a place where we seek refuge from the consequences of our sinful behavior without any real intent to reform or change. We must not be deceived, for God sees all. If we treat the body or the church as a den of robbers, God knows it, even if we deceive other Christians or, God forbid, other Christians participate in the same forms of darkness with us. Retribution may not be immediate, but retribution will come, and it will be swift and severe.

The Israelites persistently trusted more in God’s willingness to overlook their faults so as to uphold His name and His glory than to actually repent and reform themselves, and for it they twice watched all they held holy and sacred defamed, defiled, and destroyed. We do well to learn from them and turn aside from such folly. Let us not consider our bodies or the church as a den of robbers, seeking refuge from the consequences of sinful behavior without needing repentance, but instead turn and be holy as God is holy to His glory and honor forevermore!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Feast of Dedication

And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch (John 10:22-23).

Prophecy was being fulfilled, but no one was celebrating.

Daniel had spoken regarding a “king of the north” whose heart would be set against the holy covenant; he would defile the Temple and the fortress, setting up an abomination that makes desolate (Daniel 11:7-45). Around 375 years after Daniel spoke those words to Darius the Mede, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was king of Seleucid Empire. After a military campaign against the Ptolemies of Egypt, he entered Jerusalem and took all of the silver and gold from the Temple. Two years later, he declared that everyone in his empire must maintain the same Hellenistic customs. On the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Chislev, which falls somewhere between mid-November and mid-December in our calendar, in 167 BCE, they installed a statue of the Olympian Zeus in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem; ten days later, they offered swine flesh upon the altar. Anyone who would continue to practice the Israelite religion and seek to abide by the Law of Moses would be condemned to death.

Such were trying times indeed. As is often the case, the majority just went along with the new rules: some Israelites were already turning into Hellenists, and the severe consequences for following the Law of Moses were enough to give most people pause. Considering the circumstances, it would not be difficult to imagine Israel going the way of every other nation: absorbed into greater Hellenism, setting aside whatever religious distinctives they might have maintained and becoming good pagans like the rest. This was exactly what Antiochus IV Epiphanes wanted, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it done.

But not all Israelites just went along with it. The king’s officers began to attempt to enforce the edict outside of Jerusalem, and arrived in Modein, a small village about seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem. A priest named Mattathias and his five sons had moved there from Jerusalem; when called upon to sacrifice to idols, he refused, and killed a Jew who offered sacrifice along with the king’s official. He and his sons fled the town and went into the wilderness; soon, many others who refused to go along with the king’s edict joined them. After Mattathias died in 166, his son Judah, called the Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took command. He began a war which we would today call an insurgency against Antiochus and the Seleucids. By effectively using guerrilla tactics and making wise strategic decisions, he and his small force defeated the Seleucids time and time again. For a time, the Seleucids retreated in order to obtain reinforcements. Judah and his associates took the opportunity to come to Jerusalem.

They found the Temple in disarray. The sanctuary was desolate; the altar was profaned; its gates were burned. Judah commanded men to cleanse the Temple and re-establish the proper altars and instruments. On the twenty-fifth day of Chislev in the year 164 BCE, exactly three years after the Seleucids had defiled the Temple, this small insurgent band of Jews offered sacrifice on the new burnt altar they had installed. The people then celebrated the re-dedication of that altar for eight days, akin to the time of re-dedication of the Temple in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:17).

The re-dedication of the Temple was an important moment, but the war was far from over. There would be many more battles, more than twenty more years of conflict with the Seleucids, and Judah himself would fall in battle. Ultimately, however, the insurgency led by the five sons of Mattathias would defeat the Seleucid Empire, one of the three great powers of the day; Judah’s brothers and their children after them would rule as priest-kings over an independent Israel for about one hundred years, the only independent Israelite state between the days of the kings of Israel and Judah and 1947 CE.

The Israelites would begin to celebrate the re-dedication of the Temple and the events surrounding it as the Festival of Lights, or the Feast of Dedication (in Hebrew, Hanukkah). The events we have described are narrated in 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and Josephus; the description of Hanukkah is found particularly in 1 Maccabees 4:36-58, 2 Maccabees 1:7-9, 10:1-9, and in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.6-7. A later tradition in the Talmud alleges that, during the re-dedication, there was only enough olive oil to light the lamp (Hebrew menorah) for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days.

While the Feast of Dedication was not explicitly commanded by God and is not found in Scripture, nor could it be, since there was no prophet in the land at that time (cf. 1 Maccabees 4:46), the reasons for observing it are understandable. Judah and those around him ascribed all glory to God; they knew that their insurgency, on its own, had little hope. Daniel foresaw that not all would go along with the king of the north; a remnant would stand firm and take action, being refined and purified through their experience (Daniel 11:32-36). Judah and his people believed that the God of Israel was the One True God, and He loved His people Israel and would provide for them. It most certainly seemed as if He did; they wanted to celebrate the re-dedication of the Temple and to give honor to God in their newly independent country.

Yet not all was well; Mattathias and his sons were Levites, not of Judah or David. Maccabean priest-kings might have ruled in Jerusalem, but the people knew that God had promised a Messiah from the house of David. After 63 BCE, when the Romans took over from the Maccabean rulers, the Israelites hoped all the more diligently for that promised Messiah.

Almost two hundred years after the re-dedication of the Temple, near the very spot where these events took place, Jesus of Nazareth visited Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. He was walking in the same Temple, near the very spot where these events took place. Israelites came to Him, wanting to know if He really was the Christ, the Messiah (John 10:24). Will Jesus be for the Israelites of His day what Judah was for a previous generation? Would Jesus stand up against the oppressive pagan power and be the true fulfillment of Israelite expectation, re-establishing the Davidic monarchy from Jerusalem, ruling there forever?

Jesus would not satisfy the expectations of the Israelites, but He was the promised Messiah of Israel. He would not provide liberation from the Romans, but He would provide liberation from sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-3). He did not re-dedicate the physical Temple in Jerusalem; in fact, He predicted its downfall (Matthew 24:1-36). He did, however, “re-dedicate” the Temple of His body in the resurrection (John 2:18-22). Jesus did not set up a throne in Jerusalem, ruling over the nations of the earth from there, but He did receive all authority in heaven and on earth, and beginning in Jerusalem His Lordship and Kingdom was proclaimed, and the message would spread to all nations throughout all time (Acts 1:8).

Hanukkah may not be one of the feasts mentioned in Leviticus, but it maintained great importance for the Israelites of Jesus’ day. Without the firm stand of the Maccabees, to whom would Jesus have been able to go two hundred years later? The Hanukkah story of oppression, liberation, and dedication to God connects to God’s whole story regarding Israel, and in so doing, connects to Jesus and the Gospel story as well. Let us praise God for the Christ and the Temple of His body, dedicated for all of us for all time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and the Tax

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, “Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel?”
He saith, “Yea.”
And when he came into the house, Jesus spake first to him, saying, “What thinkest thou, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? From their sons, or from strangers?”
And when he said, “From strangers,” Jesus said unto him, “Therefore the sons are free. But, lest we cause them to stumble, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matthew 17:24-27).

Jesus is often described as a radical and a revolutionary, someone who seeks to actively disrupt the system. And, in many ways, Jesus is radical and revolutionary. He is living and preaching the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and that proclamation is radically opposed to the aims and actions of the world. He is constantly at odds with the religious authorities, partly regarding their teachings, and partly regarding their hypocrisy.

But Jesus is not radical for the sake of being radical; He is not revolutionary just to stir things up. There are times when Jesus, despite having an opportunity to further challenge aspects of the system, instead demurs. One such incident is recorded in Matthew 17:24-27.

The Jewish collector of the half-shekel Temple tax was in Capernaum. The tax was commanded in Exodus 30:11-16 to provide for sacrifices for atonement. The collector asked Peter if Jesus paid the tax; the tax, and Peter indicated that yes, He did.

Jesus then takes an opportunity to teach Peter. He asks if kings receive toll or tribute from their children or from strangers. The answer is easy enough: from strangers. Kings are not in habit of taxing themselves or their family members, but they receive money from taxes levied on his subjects, tribute from conquered nations, and/or tolls from transportation of commerce. The king’s family, however, remains free from taxation.

The implication is evident: since Jesus is the Son of God, which Peter recently confessed (Matthew 16:16), He is not under compulsion to pay the tax. He would be in the right to refuse payment and to declare why. Yet He does not want to cause offense; He provides, through money to be found in a fish, the shekel to pay the tax for both Peter and Himself.

That Jesus handled the situation through miraculous means is noteworthy; did He not have a shekel on Him, or could He not have found one in another way? We cannot be sure; it is possible that He was just out of money at that particular moment and that was a convenient way of handling the circumstance. Yet that seems rather unlikely; Jesus could have come up with the money in much easier ways. Perhaps since Jesus, as a Son, has no need to pay the tax, and no need for atonement anyway, that He has no need to expend the effort to obtain the money for the tax; Peter, who is liable, should at least do some work in his own profession (fishing) to pay the tax.

But this should not distract us from the thrust of the story. Does Jesus have confidence in the Temple system? Absolutely not; He will soon go to Jerusalem, will ritually cleanse the Temple, and then set forth the prophecy of its condemnation (Matthew 21:12-16, 24:1-36). The chief priests will use the Temple money first to pay Jesus’ betrayer, and then to pay off the soldiers in an attempt to deny His resurrection (Matthew 26:14-16, 28:11-15). Even its ability to atone has been bankrupted; the curtain between the holy place and the most holy place will tear when Jesus dies (Matthew 27:51).

But does that challenge really concern the Jewish men who collects the Temple tax? Jesus does as He does to not cause them to stumble (Matthew 17:27). Regardless of the state of the Temple system and those making the sacrifices, the tax is lawful under the Law of Moses, and this is not an issue where Jesus believes it is worth it to challenge for His right or to make a stink regarding the system. Therefore, even though He does not need any sacrifice made for His atonement, and even though He is free as God’s Son from the tax, He pays it anyway. It does not hurt, and making it an issue causes more difficulty than it is worth. Furthermore, the explanation is more for Peter’s benefit than anyone else’s– Peter blithely assumed that Jesus paid the tax, but Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter understood that it was not because He was somehow responsible to pay the tax, but in order to not cause offense.

This lesson is important for us as well. There are times when insisting on liberties and rights is simply not worth it; to cause any fuss may make people stumble in ways that are unnecessary (cf. Romans 14:1-23). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a stumbling-block for many people because of its essential truths and what it takes in order to conform to the image of Jesus; we should not add any more stumbling-blocks. Like Jesus, we must think about the ultimate goal for ourselves and those with whom we interact in life. Is our stand really honoring Jesus or is it just to assert our own rights? Is this really going to help someone become better acquainted with the path of Jesus or not?

Jesus, even though His message and work were radical and often revolutionary, always had the goal in mind. He wanted people to change their hearts and minds and return back to God (cf. Matthew 4:17). Many times that demanded strong stands and strong words; other times it demanded to go along with some things so as to not cause unnecessary offense. He was not radical for the sake of being radical, nor revolutionary just to keep the pot stirred. And so it should be with ourselves: we should not insist on things just because we can, but only when it is necessary for the advancement of God’s purposes. Let us seek to glorify God in all we do, learning when to take the stand and when to not provide a cause for stumbling!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Betrayer, Betrayed

Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.”
But they said, “What is that to us? See thou to it.”
And he cast down the pieces of silver into the sanctuary, and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.
And the chief priests took the pieces of silver, and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is the price of blood.”
And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, the field of blood, unto this day.
Then was fulfilled that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was priced, whom certain of the children of Israel did price; and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me” (Matthew 27:3-10).

Judas Iscariot is a good reminder to us that people tend to be more complicated than we often imagine. As the betrayer of Jesus (Matthew 26:14-16), and a greedy man who was known for stealing (cf. John 12:6), it would be easy to just write Judas off as purely evil. It would be easy to have no compassion on him whatsoever; it would be easy, as Dante did, to relegate him to the complete bottom of hell, as one of the most evil people to ever walk the earth.

Yet Judas is not a psychopath. He is not pure evil. Yes, he does terrible and sinful things; yes, he is rightly deemed an adversary, or devil, by Jesus (cf. John 6:70). But when the realization came upon him that Jesus was not getting away this time, that he really had just betrayed an innocent man, Judas acutely felt his guilt. He was deeply sorrowful for his actions (Matthew 27:3). He tried to return the thirty pieces of silver he was given to betray Jesus; to us, this may not seem like a significant act of repentance, considering what he has done, but let us remember that he is known for being covetous and a thief. After being spurned by the religious authorities, he went off and took his own life (Matthew 27:4-5). He perceived what he had done: he had betrayed the Christ of God into the hands of the men who would kill Him. The weight of guilt and pain proved too much for him.

So why did he do it? The text never says. Certain possibilities come to mind. He is most likely called Judas Iscariot because he hails from Kerioth, a village in Judea (Joshua 15:25). Jesus’ Galilean disciples were ready for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, defeat the Romans, and restore Israel’s political fortunes; how much more so would Judas, a native of Judea itself? Perhaps Judas thought that by betraying Jesus he would spur the Lord and Messiah into finally standing up to His adversaries and to establish that Kingdom about which He kept talking. Perhaps he was hurt by Jesus’ rebuke regarding Judas’ criticism of the waste of Mary’s ointment (cf. John 12:1-8), and he wanted to get a little even. Perhaps the money was the motivation: he wanted to know how much the chief priests would give him in order to hand Jesus over (Matthew 26:15), and perhaps he just saw an opportunity to make a quick buck. Perhaps it was just the voice of Satan tempting him and he proved unable to resist (Luke 22:3-6). Or perhaps, as with the rest of Judas’ character issues, it is a mixture of some of all of these reasons.

Regardless of why Judas did it, based on his reaction, it does not seem that Judas really thought that it would lead to Jesus’ death. Judas was there to see Jesus escape from the crowd in Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30) and in Jerusalem (John 10:31-39). At least one of these events involved miraculous action. Judas most likely surmised that Jesus would either escape His enemies or defeat them outright. Judas believed, after all, that Jesus was the Christ; he saw the power Jesus manifested; he knew that the soldiers coming to get Jesus were really no match for Him.

But Judas did not know that Jesus was submitting to the plan of God, and that he was the catalyst, however willingly, of the terrible sufferings that Jesus would experience. When that realization came upon him, he saw the horror of what he had done.

Matthew has set up two very intentional parallels regarding Judas in his account of these events. The first is with Simon Peter. In Matthew 26:69-75, Matthew describes how Peter denies Jesus three times. Peter feels immense guilt for doing so; he goes off and wept bitterly. He had let Jesus down. And then, a few verses later, in Matthew 27:3-10, Matthew relates how Judas felt guilt for what he had done. Both Peter and Judas felt guilt. Both proved repentant at their actions– they were both very sorrowful. But Peter’s repentance led him to turn back to Jesus, receive forgiveness, and to change from a denier of the Lord to a full confessor and witness of Jesus before the Jews and the nations (cf. John 21:15-19, Acts 2:14-36, 3:11-4:22). We have little doubt that Peter, despite having denied Jesus, entered into His glory. Judas, however, did not turn to Jesus. He did not wait to see what would happen, to beg for forgiveness before the Risen Lord. Had he done so, is there any doubt that Jesus would have forgiven him if he was truly repentant? Instead, his guilt led him to seek atonement from the very ones who gave him the money, those who also had Jesus’ blood on their hands, and was spurned even by them. Drowning in guilt, Judas kills himself. Despite repenting of what he had done, Judas did not turn back to God in Christ for forgiveness. Crushed by worldly guilt, he takes his own life, and what hope can we have for him in eternity on account of it? Thus Paul will later teach the Corinthians that there are two forms of guilt– worldly guilt that leads to death, and godly guilt that leads to true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).

Yet it is the second parallel that Matthew is making that is often missed if we are only focusing on Judas and his character. Judas is not the only actor here; we also have the example of the chief priests and elders.

We have declared that Judas feels great sorrow for what he has done. This sorrow is very deep because he knows who Jesus is and therefore the enormity of the transgression he has committed. He wants to make good in some small way, and so he takes the money back to the Temple (Matthew 27:3). He desperately seeks atonement for what he has done.

One would think that he has done wisely in heading to the Temple. After all, according to the covenant between God and Israel, the Temple is where God dwells and where sacrifices are to be offered for sin (cf. Leviticus). Atonement and forgiveness of sins are to be found by bringing one’s sacrifice to the Temple and having it offered before God. One of the most important reason for the Temple’s existence is to facilitate this atonement, and the chief priests are the very ones who have been given this task (cf. Leviticus 16).

Yet Judas does not receive any such comfort. Judas confesses to them that he has sinned by betraying innocent blood (Matthew 27:4). What do they tell him? “What is that to us? See thou to it” (Matthew 27:4). The very priests who are to minister to God on behalf of the people, offering the sacrifices brought by contrite Israelites, show complete disinterest in Judas’ problem. They declare that he has to see to his own atonement himself.

As it relates to Judas himself, we see that the betrayer is now betrayed. Jesus put trust in Judas, allowing him to maintain the money bag even though he pilfered from it, establishing him as one of the select Twelve, and Judas betrayed him. Now, the religious authorities to whom Judas entrusted himself, getting their money for handing Jesus over, whose “day job” it is to facilitate atonement for sin, refuse to do anything for him. They do not deny his claim; they “piously” refuse to put the money back into the treasury, for they know it is the price of blood, and that is why they buy a field with it (Matthew 27:6-10). If Judas’ claim of betraying innocent blood is true, than their guilt is not much less than his own. But they are content– regardless of Jesus’ conduct, He was a threat to the “system,” and that threat was being removed. The show would go on. The chief priests and elders maintained their authority and stature among the people.

Yet, in reality, they have just sold themselves out. As this relates to Jesus and the office of the Temple, Matthew is making it clear that the Temple and its authorities are being superseded. The chief priests and elders are more right than they imagine when they cast Judas off, for in reality, their sacrifices and their attempts toward atonement now prove insufficient. Salvation and forgiveness are coming through Jesus who is being crucified; the sad irony is that the cost of Judas’ atonement was being paid for as he was going through these actions. The Temple system, with its corrupted chief priests, was morally bankrupt. Within forty years, the Romans put an end to the whole pretense. Matthew is showing that God’s sentence against them was just.

The betrayer is betrayed; in the process, the whole system proves its own condemnation. At that moment it was hard to imagine that their machinations were really leading to the opportunity for all men to receive salvation through the redemption for which Jesus was paying with His life. The great tragedy is that, as far as we can tell, none of them proved willing to receive true forgiveness. Judas was repentant but directed it wrongly; he took his own life. The chief priests and elders, as a whole, never seemed to humble themselves, and the Romans would do it for them. Let us learn from their examples. Let us repent with godly grief, turning to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness, and changing our ways for the better!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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