“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” [John 2:19].
When Jesus was taken before Caiaphas we are told by Matthew (26:57 – 68) that the chief priests and the whole Council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put Him to death…at last two came forward and said, “This man said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.”
Mark points out (14:53 – 65) that while the testimony of the false witnesses did not agree, the priests and the Council were able to overlook the discrepancies in order to achieve their aim of murder. The issue of the temple arises again in Mark’s account of Jesus before the Council: We heard Him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another not made with hands.”
Since it had been about three years since Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” His words must have made an impression on the hearers, for while the false witnesses before Caiaphas and the Council did not accurately quote Jesus, they did refer back to Jesus throwing the merchandisers out of the temple and the statement He made about destroying a temple. As Satan often does, he takes something God said and twists it, often making people believe that God said something that God did not say.
One wonders whether the false witnesses knew they were lying at this point, or whether by now they had convinced themselves that their lies were the truth. The fact that their testimony did not agree may point to the fact that they were relying on their individual faulty memories, rather than joining in a conspiracy of lies – for conspirators might be expected to get the story right – often a giveaway that a conspiracy exists. This is conjecture of course.
Were the false witnesses original witnesses to Jesus’ actions and statements in the temple in John Chapter Two? Or were they recipients of the account of that scene? Perhaps they were told the story by someone who was told the story by someone else who was told the story, by someone else who was told the story, by someone who was actually there? But of course, even those who were actually there heard what they were predisposed to hear…a warning to us all.
All of the false witnesses appear to have recalled that three days was part of Jesus’ statement; it is no surprise that that outlandish assertion was embedded in the collective memory.
Two assertions seem to have clinched the Council’s verdict; one was that Jesus claimed to be God, the other than He threatened the temple. Both were true, for even while what the false accusers claimed Jesus said about the temple was not true, Jesus did threaten the temple in the sense that He came to bring the physical temple to an end – now that the heavenly true temple has come it is time for the earthly representation of the heavenly to pass away. In spite of Galatians and Hebrews and Colossians and other New Testament and Old Testament teachings many Christians insist on looking for the rebuilding of a physical temple – shall God roll back the clock of destiny? Shall Pentecost be reversed? Shall life be as if Jesus never came? Shall Jesus’ statement to the Woman at the Well in John Chapter Four be blotted out?
Recall that both Stephen and Paul were persecuted for teaching that God does not live in temples made with hands – Stephen learned it from Jesus, Paul heard it from Stephen – have we heard it, have we learned it, do we believe it?