Four Temples

Perhaps one of the clearest contrasts between the covenants of Moses and Christ concerns their respective temples.  Men have long built “holy shrines” to symbolize their gods and their dwelling places among them and as places of pilgrimage and worship in honor of their deities.  So it was among Israel.  God at first directed the construction of a portable structure, the tabernacle, wherein His presence among the people would be centered and where He would meet with their leaders (cf. Ex 26-31; 35:10-40:38).  It is sometimes called the “tabernacle of meeting,” it and housed various artifacts and symbolic items representative of Israel’s special status above all nations.

The temple of Solomon.  After about 600 years or so this structure gave way to a more magnificent building – the temple of Solomon (1 Kgs 6-8).  Sitting high atop Mt. Moriah, the white stone and glittering gold accents could be seen for miles.  Of this ornate, grandiose structure God had said to Solomon, “If you will walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David.  And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people” (1 Kgs 6:12-13).  But as the record shows both Solomon and the nation as a whole failed to honor God, even corrupting the temple itself with idolatrous objects and practices (cf. 1 Kgs 15:18-19; 2 Kgs 16:7-8, 10-18; 18:16; 23:4; etc.).  Their faith was in the temple itself; they thought its mere presence among them would protect against all enemies.  Thus God finally had the temple of Solomon razed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.

The temple of Herod.  When Jesus came on the scene the temple was in the process of being refurbished and expanded.  The temple that had been rebuilt following the dispersion paled in comparison to Solomon’s previous edifice, and Herod was remedying that by an opulent upgrade (cf. Josephus’ Antiquities 15.11.3).  Unimpressed by the decades of work, the expense and the sprawling campus of pavement and porticoes, Jesus was driven to anger by the crass commercialism, greed and fraudulence of moneychangers and purveyors of sacrifice which transformed a spiritual temple into a “den of thieves” (Mt 21:13).

Jesus couldn’t contain Himself:  “When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away!  Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise’” (Jn 2:15-16).  Jesus’ outburst was an egregious offense both toward the merchants as well as the Sadduceean managers of the temple property. 

Thus they confronted Him:  “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” (2:18).  Jesus’ answer is unexpected and overflowing with meaning, both spiritually and prophetically:  “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19).  Those utterly lacking in spiritual nuance could only think in terms of the place where they were standing:  “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” (2:20).  This belittling insult against Jesus reappears at His trial and His crucifixion (Mt 26:61; 27:40).  But what did Jesus mean by this cryptic reference?

The temple of Jesus.  John is giving us a preview of where his gospel  leads – to the death of Jesus.  This foreboding thread runs all the way through his gospel.  With retrospective clarity John explains the meaning of Jesus’ statement:  “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said” (2:21-22).  The real issue was not whether Jesus had the power to rebuild Herod’s temple (He certainly did); the issue was what would become of Him in view of His zeal for His heavenly Father and all things holy and sacred. 

Jesus’ language seems to point to the purpose and fate of His earthly body.  As the temple of Solomon housed the presence of God, the physical body is a “temple” of the spirit that animates it.  This was no less true of Jesus.  From the time the Holy Spirit created the spark of life in Mary’s womb, a body began to form via natural process.  Thus we have the conundrum of the incarnation:  God takes on human form in order to carry out the sacrifice necessary for the redemption of the sins of all mankind:  “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me.  In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God’ … By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all …” (Heb 10:5-7, 9-10).  God, who in His “natural” divine state cannot die for He is everlasting, takes on flesh that can be terminated for a ransom for sinners.  Eternal spirit in flesh; Creator dying at the hands of His creation; love murdered by hatred; ultimate power to annihilate held in abeyance by patience and mercy and the resurrection to follow His death – all of this and more is indicated by Jesus’ reference to His “temple” being raised in three days.

The temple of our own body.  Paul uses a similar metaphor in 1 Cor 6:19-20:  “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body …”.  God always intended to move mankind from the elementary notion of His presence among His people in a special building to a real, vibrant, transforming relationship in their very lives.  This should not devolve into a debate about how the Spirit indwells.  The salient point is how the personal fellowship between the believer and God impacts how one lives their life.  Obviously, the presence of an ornate physical structure among the Israelites did not lead to increased godliness.  Something more was needed.  The temples of Solomon and Herod were merely vehicles to condition mankind to a deeper spiritual concept.

When we see our bodies as instruments of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12), we find purpose and incentive to live purely and glorify God.  We all need God to dwell within us – from the drug abusers lying on the sidewalks to the soulless mug shots of the violent; from neglected children to each of us who fail daily to be all God wants us to be.  Jesus’ death was not the end of the story, and neither is ours if we are the temple of the Spirit of God.