For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. Psalm 69:9 (NIV)
The word of the Lord came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, observe my laws and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:11-13 (NIV)
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. John 2:13-22 (NIV)
(Jesus said): For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12:40 (NIV) (Jonah 1:17)
Jesus wasn’t happy with the corruption going on in the temple. The temple of Jesus’ day was not the temple originally built by Solomon, referenced above in 1 Kings 6. Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed (2 Chronicles 36:9, Ezra 5:12) by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who carried off the people of Israel to exile. There is a theme in Scripture to the building of, and the destruction of temples.
In Jesus’ day the physical building of the Second Temple still stood, lavishly expanded and renovated by none other than Herod the Great. The Second Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in 70AD. Today, on the site of the Second Temple is the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. While most Jewish and some Christian sects bemoan the loss of the Temple Mount site to a Muslim mosque, the reality is that God is no more present in the historic Jerusalem as He is anywhere else in His creation.
It is interesting, however, how passionate Jesus was about the shady activity going on in the temple, a place that was supposed to be a house of prayer. We don’t sing hymns about Angry Jesus- though He was human, and He did get angry. The Jesus we see here, the guy who upset the apple cart- and upended the trading tables, and who destroyed the livestock cages isn’t the Jesus we feel comfortable with. Where in this passage is the Good Shepherd, or the Jesus who wept when His friend Lazarus died, or the Jesus who said “do not hinder the children, and bring them to Me?”
Israel should have known from the prophets that God was not pleased with either their behavior or the condition of their hearts toward Him. But the people ignored God’s warning to Solomon, and they ignored the prophets’ warnings. As the centuries passed from Solomon throughout the times of the Israelite Kings, God’s people grew more and more evil and more and more separated from God. Eventually God let Nebuchadnezzar deal with Israel. They were sold into Babylonian captivity.
The Jewish people of Jesus’ day didn’t realize it during Jesus’ lifetime here on earth, but they were soon to lose their physical temple and to face temporal judgment yet again.
As time goes on in our culture, faithfulness to God is waning. Many people question the existence of God, let alone the reality of moral absolutes. As in the time of the Judges we are in an era of “doing what is right in our own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Unfortunately the consequences of moral relativism- the condition of having no behavioral standards or absolutes- manifest themselves in broken families, violence, crime, drug addiction and so on. We see the temporal consequences of our brokenness and our inability to keep God’s commandments everywhere.
We can’t get too judgmental about the people of Israel, because we do the same things they did and worse. Sometimes we wonder if God is there, and if He is, why does He let terrible things continue to go on? Evil may be defeated, but it is not eliminated from the world just yet.
We know that human beings cannot even realize their need for Jesus apart from the grace of God. We cannot straighten ourselves up no matter how good we behave or how well we try to follow the rules.
The good news is that God does not live in a physical temple like in the days of the Israelite kings or even in a rebuilt temple like there was in Jesus’ day. We don’t have to go to Jerusalem to pray. There is a certain sad irony that it was Herod who restored and expanded the temple-which begs the question, were the expenditures made to beautify the temple not for God’s glory so much as for Herod’s?
God’s true temple is not a place but a Person. He is available to us anytime, anywhere. Jesus is the temple. This is what Jesus meant when he told the Pharisees and other religious authorities who mocked him when He said that He will tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days.
Jesus has taken the place of the physical building of the temple. He is the Holy of Holies, and He is God-with-us. He is not confined to a little room that is only accessible by one guy- the High Priest-one day out of the year. When Jesus breathed His last upon the Cross, the curtain of the temple was split in two, the dead were raised, and the Holy Spirit was set loose in the world. (Matthew 27:50-54) In His descending to the world of the dead and rising again (as Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish) He defeated death and has won eternal life for us.
Jesus has become God with us. He has rebuilt the temple not out of bricks and stone, but of Himself. God the Holy Spirit is set free in the world- and He embraces us. The temple is everywhere for Jesus followers. We are free to thank Him, to worship Him- to participate in His kingdom and to let Him transform us.