A brief recap:
- I am suggesting a trajectory from a loss of identity as the corporate priesthood for the nations, through the Levitical priesthood there for the nation, to the desire for a king to be as one of the nations, and the king finally builds a Temple.
- It is not that God is not present among the people in that process and he is certainly manifest in the midst of those landmarks, indeed in some of the most remarkable of ways.
- I have also suggested that although we are not looking for some idealistic outcome there is the same calling for the church as was on Israel, that is to be a royal priesthood for the nations. And in the NT I now intend to reverse the trajectory. The sacred Temple is not sacred – shock, horror to the disciples then (and maybe also now).
The Cleansing of the Temple: John’s version
I do not hold to two cleansings of the Temple but that viewpoint is incidental. I consider that John’s positioning of the cleansing at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus is not making a chronological but a theological point. So first to John and the early chapters of his Gospel.
‘In the beginning’ (1:1) carries such a resonance to Genesis, and we have references to ‘the light of the world‘ paralleling that of ‘Let there be light’ from the first creation account. We then have a succession of days:
- ‘the next day’ (1:29, 1:35): this then accounts for 3 days of ‘creation’ (two ‘next days, indicating two days after the opening ‘in the beginning day’)
- after that disciples come and remain with Jesus ‘that day’ (1:39): a fourth day
- we then have another reference to ‘the next day’ (1:43): a fifth day
- no reference to the sixth day, the day when humanity was created – the truly human one is not created
- then we have a final reference to an event that takes place ‘on the third day’ (2:1). This of course pushes us beyond the Creation narrative and forward to the new creation day / week inaugurated that will be inaugurated through the resurrection.
So in the above ‘days’ we have a movement in a week with a skipping over of day 6 – Jesus is not a new ‘adam’ with the breath of God in him but the word made flesh… Creation is being re-calibrated with the resurrection pre-figured in the event that takes place on the ‘third’ day (the wedding at Cana). There the water for the Jewish rites of purification is changed into the wine that can only be drunk in the new creation. This is described as the first of the signs and through which his glory was revealed (2:12).
We then have a pause and a ‘few days’ pass with the next event recorded is the Johannine account of the Temple cleansing. This is why I consider John has placed the cleansing right up front. The new creation has to cleanse the Temple, but even more than that for the Temple has to give way to the Temple which is his body (2:19).
The Temple cleansing – other accounts
The other accounts place the Temple cleansing where I consider it took place chronologically – in that final week in Jerusalem. The prophet has to die in Jerusalem – that centre is the place that has to be the focus. Here I might sound a little controversial, but hold with it! It is not the centre with the identity of being the holy city, but as the place where the fall from redemptive calling is centred. Break it open there and there is a break for the world. He is the Jewish Messiah, to fulfil the promises to Israel so that the call to bless the nations can be truly released. He restores this by first breaking the curse over Israel.
Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Luke. 13:33-35.)
When he finally comes to Jerusalem he weeps over the city (Luke 19:41) as he only sees judgement ahead at the hands of the Romans. Having declared what he saw in the city he makes one further visit – to the Temple. He is looking for something here that is redemptive, that could even hold back judgement. However, he does not find in the Temple what might have been a slender life-line. The Temple is no longer a house of prayer (for all nations) but has become a den of robbers. With that the bondage is complete, and the tragic future of the Temple is outlined, for example Matthew 24:
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Tragic in the eyes of his Jewish disciples, and nothing less than the end of age (and remember that the question is from the disciples who could not even see the Easter events so this question should not be understood along the lines of a standard modern-day Christian perspective concerning the ‘Second Coming’). The tragedy of the Temple destruction as seen from a pre-Easter viewpoint has to give way to an incredibly expansive viewpoint of a living temple where God dwells.
The Temple and the early disciples
In as much as Jesus was not anti-Temple, neither were the early disciples. They continued to gather in that setting in Acts and Paul went through purification rites within the Temple (Acts 21:26, albeit from following the advice of James). However, there were implications through the death of Jesus for the Temple. Perhaps Stephen who was associating with a more open minded synagogue (Acts 6:9) is the first one to push hard a point that he repeats in his speech (Acts 7), namely that the visitations of God were outside the land of Israel. That perspective was what took him to the point he made about the Temple. The end result – stoning.
There is, I consider, a little literary twist in the Lucan account. Those who stoned Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a young man called Saul, who we read explicitly approved of the killing. The twist is once we get into the Pauline message we realise that if ever there was a Jew who carried the mantle of Stephen it was Paul. The coats might be at his feet, but the coat of Stephen would soon be on his shoulders. Again we will read of a 3 day incident – this time of blindness. Paul, blind until he can see that the crucified Jew was crucified not for his own sins, but for the curse on the nation. Stephen had underlined a point of the glory of God being revealed outside the land, likewise Paul’s revelation comes not within the land but within the foreign soil of Damascus!
I consider that either the early church was ambivalent about the Temple in that it no longer carried any redemptive purpose, or as Jews they were unable to come to terms that its day was over. Whether either of the above is right or not, it seems to me that there was a growing expectation of a great and imminent shift:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).
There is no evidence in early Christian writings post-AD70 of an expectation of the Temple being rebuilt. Those events were seen as the fulfillment of Jesus’ words.
Enough for today!!