“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” - John 2:19
More militant words have rarely been spoken before or since. Jesus of Nazareth, with the backdrop of the temple of Jerusalem behind him, having just driven out the moneychangers from doing business in the temple courts, spoke these words in response to those questioning his authority. Rather than answer their question directly, as was often his habit he raised the stakes higher.
The temple in Jerusalem was the very centre of the Jewish religion and the entire nation. Originally envisioned by King David, built by King Solomon, destroyed by the Babylonians and rebuilt by King Herod, in the first century it was the visible representation of God on earth to the Jews. His supernatural presence waited behind the veil within, covering the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies, where the high priest would enter to offer sacrifice for the sins of the nation. It is impossible for us to fully understand the importance of this place and how central it was to Israel’s understanding of God and how He interacted with His people.
Yet Jesus was suggesting it would be destroyed and that he would raise it again in three days? At that moment he was only implying such a thing could happen. Later he would be more specific and clearly state that it would be destroyed.
“…no stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down” – Luke 21:6
We know now (as did the Gospel writers) that Jesus was not suggesting that he would rebuild the physical temple in three days but that he spoke of his body and that he was foretelling his eventual resurrection. Eventually, it all made sense but not until much later. At the time he said it, all who heard it were dumbfounded and some were downright furious that he was suggesting the very centre of their religion and way of life would be destroyed. Sound familiar?
The incarnation – God becoming man – was so much more than God Himself taking on the sins of all humanity and dying so that we would be restored to live with Him forever. Temple-based religion also had to be destroyed. Jesus of Nazareth forever ended it by being the once for all sacrifice. The veil was torn, giving all who believe permanent access to the presence of God forever, eliminating the need for the physical temple and its practices. The Romans only finished the job in AD 70 when they destroyed the building. The remains of it now sit underneath the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest places. It’s previous function as the heart of Judaism and the nation of Israel long since ended.
The implications of Jesus body being the new temple are astounding and far reaching. This statement, together with the eventual destruction of the physical building, meant that the centre of religious life would now be established within the temple of the human body. Jesus was the prototype, the second Adam, the Son of God, the firstborn among sons and daughters of God. Consider the following radical statements:
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” - 1Cor 6:19
“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” - Act 7:48
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” - Rom 8:29
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” - John 4:21,23
The staggering conclusion of these and other similar statements is this – Jesus has forever moved the centre of worship from a location or a temple made with human hands to the temple of the human body. He was the prototype of worship in spirit and in truth and as His brothers and sisters who seek to be like Him in every way, our destiny is the same. “This temple” (the physical building) has been destroyed. It is not a stretch to say that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus destroyed temple based religion forever. Why then do we insist on rebuilding it?
There is much talk in recent years about revival or a new reformation in the institutional church (i.e. the one that exists in institutions and physical buildings made with human hands). Could we be understanding the concept but missing the bigger point? What if the new reformation is not about the institutions and buildings at all? What if the rebuilding is in human temples rather than physical ones? If that is the case, what then is the destiny of the physical temples of our day?
We live in a time where it is no longer necessary to meet in a physical place to fully interact with others (see the 21st Century Reformation post for more on this). There has never been a time quite like this in human history. The rapid acceleration of technology is facilitating an earthquake-like culture shift that is redefining relationships, community, meeting and other similar concepts that have always been associated with a physical place. This does not surprise God, the Creator of the universe and ultimate source of creativity and technological advancement. In fact, maybe He has caused it to happen at just the right time?
The invention of the printing press in 1440 was soon followed by the translation of the bible into common language in the early 1500’s, which enabled printing and distribution of scripture to the masses. This fueled the Reformation and the re-establishment of the concept of salvation by faith, undermining the hierarchical control of the institutional church of that time. One publisher or writer could reach many readers who could then comprehend and understand the bible for themselves.
In the 20th century, electronic amplification, radio and TV brought mass communication of the gospel to anyone who could listen or watch. This was the generation of the radio and TV preachers – ministry to thousands and millions simultaneously. While this accelerated the wide distribution of the message it was still very much one to many (i.e. one speaker and many listeners/viewers).
The 21st century has brought us the Internet and all of the associated tools that come with it (smartphones, tablets, laptops, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.). This explosion of innovation and technology has also caused a dramatic shift from one to many to many to many communications. The control of the content has now shifted from the publisher/broadcaster to the reader/viewer. The inevitable development has occurred in parallel with the technology – extreme narcissism. How else to explain that the most popular new word for 2013 was “selfie”, a picture of yourself, the ultimate expression of narcissism. Conversely, an app called “Facetime” has also been developed which enables intimate connection between individuals from anywhere with a wireless connection. An interesting contrast.
So what? Why is this a big deal? We live in a generation where institutional temples all around us are crumbling and being replaced by individual temples. Individuals have been empowered. Technology has enabled it. Mass media is fueling it. It is pointless to attempt to revive, reform or rebuild the institutional temples. Jesus destroyed temple-based worship by establishing something new. Or put another way, he focused on the new with the full understanding of the implications to the old and did not attempt to preserve it. His statements about the coming destruction of the physical temple in Jerusalem demonstrate he was well aware of what was coming. Is it possible that the 21st century explosion of technology and innovation has sowed the seeds for the destruction of institutional religion, building on the foundations laid by the printing press, radio and television? We may be living in such a time without being aware of it.
“No stone left upon another”
The proposition is that this is exactly what is happening within religious systems and society overall. Empowered individuals are questioning and challenging institutions everywhere (e.g. churches, governments, big business, etc.). Our focus should be to prepare individuals for the responsibility that comes with this revolution. Empowerment of individuals without honour (for the Creator and one another) quickly descends in narcissism, humanism and potentially anarchy. The model for what good looks like are Adam and Eve, before their fall, fully empowered, stewarding all of creation and in right relationship with one another and their Creator.
The challenge is still the same “Adam, where are you?” and “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden.” There are two competing value systems placed before us by the technological revolution. What will your choice be – Selfie or Facetime?