“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Why this cryptic response from Jesus to the Jewish leaders? They want validation from Jesus in the form of a sign; He responds with a statement sure to confuse them. Jesus doesn’t sit them down and explain who He is, He doesn’t start with Genesis and work through the Law, Prophets, and Writings with them, teaching them about the Messiah, teaching them about the true Lamb and that Lamb’s relation to Passover.
It was, after all, Passover; why not teach about Moses and the Exodus and the first Passover – that is a natural; why respond with, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”? The response of the Jewish leaders was reasonable enough, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” From John’s account it doesn’t appear that Jesus answered this question.
From verse 23 we see that during this Passover Jesus did do signs to the point where “many believed in His name”, but this belief was not the belief of John 1:12 or 3:16; we’ll explore this in a forthcoming post.
We’re not told that Jesus faced resistance when He threw the religious business people out of the temple; one would think that these people wouldn’t have left without some protest and resistance – after all, Jesus was threatening their livelihood. There must have been a look from Jesus, a Presence; there must have been something about this Man with His whip of cords that sent a message to those business people that they were in the wrong place for making money.
Well, okay, what’s done is done; let’s go ask Him what authority He has for shutting down the temple business enterprise. “Show us a sign that you have authority to do this.”
The fact that Jesus did what He did is sign enough. He claimed the temple as His Father’s House – there is sign enough for those who have ears to hear.
But wait, Jesus will not only threaten their livelihood by tossing out the merchandisers of God, He will raise the specter of the temple building being destroyed. The temple is the economic center of the religious leaders, it is a symbol for political leaders, it is at the heart of national and ethnic consciousness and identity – and Jesus raises the image of its destruction. The temple, restored by Herod the Great, traces its history back to the Tabernacle of Moses, through the Temple of Solomon, then to the restored Temple under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
Yes, as John points out, Jesus is talking about the temple of His body, about His crucifixion and resurrection, and in doing so is not only prefiguring Good Friday and Easter Sunday but is proclaiming that He is God Almighty, the Giver and Taker and Giver again of life. Jesus Christ will lay His life down and Jesus Christ will take His life up again, for He is God of very God. What sign will He give? He will give the sign that only God can give - the sign of the Giver and Taker and Giver again of life.
The ultimate destruction of the temple by the Romans will have it roots in the death of resurrection of Jesus Christ and of Pentecost, for now that the true temple has come the type and shadow must pass away. According to the Jewish commander and historian Josephus, during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Jewish factions in the city fought each other in the temple – thus the temple was desecrated before the Romans breached the city walls and destroyed the temple.
When Jesus raises His temple in three days He raises a Temple greater than the one that went into the tomb, for He raises His many-membered Body, He raises the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem comes up from the grave, it is empowered at Pentecost, and mystery of mysteries it descends from heaven.
“Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” John 12:24.
“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother,” Galatians 4:25 – 26.
“…in Whom [Jesus Christ] the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” Ephesians 2:21 – 22.