John 2:13-22 (Third Sunday in Lent—Series B)
“The True Temple”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 8, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 2:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
One would think that Jesus’ actions would have received more attention from security and law enforcement in the temple precinct. However, the controversy isn’t so much about what Jesus did in throwing out the sellers of oxen, sheep, and pigeons, and pouring out the coins of the money-changers and overturning their tables. It’s more about who Jesus is. “What sign do show us because you are doing these things?” The things Jesus did might possibly be okay if Jesus would show with a miraculous sign that He has the right and the authority to do so. In other words, “Jesus, who do you think you are in doing these things?”
For the disciples, and John’s readers like you and me, the identity of Jesus comes into focus when we consider the text of Scripture that the disciples remembered, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This verse is from Psalm 69. And we need to take a few minutes to look at this psalm if we want to see who Jesus thinks He is and why He does what He does in cleansing the temple. I’ve printed out the psalm for you so that we can take a look at it together briefly this morning. Psalm 69 is a psalm of David. He offers this prayer for help in the midst of attacks and sufferings imposed on him by his enemies. There are no reasons for these attacks against David. He says in verse 4, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. What I did not steal must I now restore?” David suffers unjustly for things he didn’t do.
Next we see that the suffering David is facing is coming from unbelievers. He is being persecuted because of His faith and trust in the Lord. Verses 7 and 8, “For it is for your sake [O God] that I have borne reproach, that dishonor has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother’s sons.” Even his family has alienated him for his faith. Now comes the very Scripture that the disciples remembered after Jesus cleansed the temple, verse 9, “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you [,God,] have fallen on me.” David is suffering on account of his zealous faith in the Lord.
In light of Psalm 69, the identity of Jesus begins to come into focus. In saying to the Jewish authorities, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it,” Jesus is speaking as the psalmist. He is enacting in His life what David’s life foreshadowed. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of David, was consumed with passion for God’s glory and driven by a desire to remove from His people any obstacles to proper worship. Jesus’ disciples, upon seeing Jesus clear the temple, realized that the words of Psalm 69 applied to Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus Himself fits the larger pattern of the righteous sufferer who has an abundance of enemies who plot His downfall and who is also alienated from His own family.
So Jesus is the righteous sufferer who follows in the footsteps of David. Jesus, the greater David, suffers at the hands of His opponents because He perfectly preaches and teaches and enacts God’s holy word. As Isaiah prophesied of Jesus, the coming Suffering Servant of the Lord, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isa. 53:9 ESV) Jesus knows Himself to be the Messiah who suffers unjustly so that all people might worship God in spirit and in truth.
In the Old Testament, and the early part of the first century A.D., the way to God’s presence was barred by degrees of holiness. Non-Jews could only worship the Triune God in the court of the Gentiles, which Jesus cleansed from all the trade so that they might be able to worship. Jewish women could only worship in the court of the women, and Jewish men in the court of Israel. The priests ministered in the Holy Place, offering bloody sacrifices to make atonement for the sins of the people. And the high priest, only one day a year on the Day of Atonement, could enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the lamb, to stand before presence of the Lord God to make atonement for the people.
But with the coming of the Christ, all that changes. The Suffering Servant of the Lord, with His innocent suffering and death, breaks down all those walls that separate people from God. Jesus declares Himself to be the temple! So what does this all mean for us?
Jesus said, “Destroy this temple.” We already know from John’s text that Jesus was talking, not about the architectural structure in Jerusalem, but about His body. But the word Jesus used for temple is significant. There were two words in Greek for temple. The first word, hieron, means the whole complex, the sanctuary and the surrounding consecrated area. The other word is naos. This is the innermost part of the temple where God dwelt with His presence. In the Jerusalem Temple, we would call this the Holy of Holies. Which word do you think Jesus used to describe Himself? That’s right, naos. “Destroy this naos,” Jesus said of His body. “Destroy this place where God Himself dwells.” Jesus, the God-Man, is the new Holy of Holies. Jesus is the dwelling place of God with humanity. God has come among His people in flesh and blood, so Jesus is the noas, the temple of the living God dwelling in the middle of His people. Paul writes in Colossians, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” and “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col 1:19; 2:9 ESV)
Jesus, the righteous sufferer of Psalm 69, is God dwelling in the flesh with us—exactly what we read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and [tabernacle or templed] among us.” And it is Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, who will be destroyed and then raised again in three days. For as the physical temple was the place of sacrifice for sins, Jesus the Temple would become the sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Consider that, under the Law, the priests in the Temple would offer sacrifices of oxen, sheep, and doves. These animals would give up their life and shed their blood, covering over your sin, making atonement before God. God would not count your sins against you because of these bloody animal sacrifices. Consider that under the Law, everything is purified by blood and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Breaking any of the Ten Commandments required a blood sacrifice to purchase your forgiveness. The animal’s blood was a substitute for the life of the person—for your life and for mine. The animal would shed its blood and give up its life, rather than the individual suffering the consequence of death because of their sin. The Temple served as the place where God dwelt among His people and where the sacrificial blood of animals would be poured out to forgive sins.
But now Jesus, the true Temple has come—God in the flesh. Jesus, the One to whom all the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament pointed to, is here. In His own person Jesus fulfills all of the roles of the Temple and the sacrificial system. He is both Temple and Sacrifice. Atonement, forgiveness, and the cleansing of sin for all people—Jew and Gentile—were accomplished through Jesus’ destruction—His Passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus suffered under the Law the penalty that you and I and all people deserve. He suffered as our Substitute with His perfect life and with His sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus shed His blood to purchase the forgiveness of all our sins, once for all.
While the blood of bulls and goats, sheep and pigeons, did what God intended them to do in making atonement for the people, their purpose was to point forward to the one, final sacrifice of God the Son. (Heb. 9) Thus with the coming of Christ, with His death on the cross and shedding of His blood, full and complete forgiveness of sins for everyone is accomplished. Romans 6:10, “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all.” And Hebrews 9:26, “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Because Jesus’ body was destroyed by the death of the cross, we have forgiveness and life through the shedding of HIS blood. Because Jesus’ body was raised from the dead on the third day, we have everlasting life. Death has no power over us. There is now no need for any sacrifice for sins. There is no need for a physical Temple. Jesus is that Temple and the once-for-all sacrifice. No special ritual arrangements are to be made. For in Christ, with sins forgiven, we have full access to God—to worship Him without fear, with no need for any earthly priest to mediate by means of sacrifice. For we have Christ, the great High Priest, who has redeemed us by His own blood so that we might approach God with all confidence and faith.
Because Jesus is the Temple that transcends and replaces all other sites of worship, there is no one specific place or any one specific time where we must worship God. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, “Believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” (Joh 4:21, 23 ESV) By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we have access to the very throne of our heavenly Father. Sin no longer bars the way. No degrees of holiness separate us from the Lord, for we are all declared holy and righteous in Christ on account of His death and resurrection.
Now you and I look forward to seeing this reality face to face when Christ our Lord comes again on the Last Day. What we see now by faith, we will see in fact when the Lord Himself creates a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. For we are promised by the Lord Christ Himself through His servant John in Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” (Rev 21:1-4, 22 ESV) And would you believe, the word for temple here is our friend naos? There is no inner sanctuary or Holy of Holies. There is no need for such a place, because God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will dwell with us face to face, personally. No boundaries, no barriers, but full communion with the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the union of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ, Son of David and Son of God, is the true Temple. He is Immanuel, God-with-us. And He is our only sacrifice for sin. He suffered as the righteous One, the innocent One, bearing all our sins and shedding His blood so that we would have forgiveness and life everlasting on account of His death and resurrection. There is now no need for Temple or sacrifice for sin, because it is all accomplished in Christ. And so, with sins forgiven, by grace through faith, we look forward to being with the Jesus when He comes again in glory when we will be forever with our Temple, our Holy of Holies, without boundaries and barriers, our God and Savior. Amen.