Jesus and the Temple| One Greater Than the Temple Is Here- #1
To the early Jewish mind, nothing compared to the glory – and significance – of the Jerusalem Temple. As Wright has noted: “All the other symbols of ancient Israel and the second Temple Jewish world gathered around this majestic, potent building, and from it they took their meaning and power” (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2013)101). In an earlier work, Wright offered this: “The symbolism of the Temple was designed to express the belief that it formed the centre, not only of the physical world, but also of the entire cosmos, so that, in being YHVH’s dwelling place, it was the spot where heaven and earth met.” (N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Minneapolis, Fortress, 1996)205).
That temple represented several things. Wright lists a few:
1.) It symbolized the cosmos / world. The temple was actually referred to as “heaven and earth” and the very clothing of the High Priest likewise symbolized the cosmos. See Wright, 2013)101 where he cites the Wisdom of Solomon which “describes the robe of Aaron, the first high priest, as depicting ‘the whole world’ (holos ho kosmos).”
2.) The Temple represented the David Kingdom. “Threats to the temple were threats to the king”- Thus, kingdom and temple are inextricably bound. “It is highly significant for our understanding of Paul, and his re-use of the Temple motif at various key points, that Temple and (Davidic) Messiahship go hand in hand.” (P. 104).
3.) The destruction of the Temple therefore, led to a dissolution of the original world view and demanded a new one– thus, the predictions of the New Temple / Cosmos.
Stevenson adds that the Temple was the very symbol of Israel’s election. “destruction of the temple could be seen as tantamount to the destruction of the nation.” He calls attention to the fact that in Jewish thinking the Temple and Israel’s place as the elect of God are tied together. (Gregory Stevenson, Power and Place, (New York, Walter De Gruyter, 2001)128, see also 168).
Briggs concurs: “Both the power of Israel’s God and the certainty of Israel’s election were called into question. The divine covenant appeared to be sundered. Atonement could not be won upon the broken altars. Israel’s millennial faith was shaken to its roots” (Robert Briggs, Jewish Temple Imagery, (New York, Peter Lang Publishing, 1999)1: Briggs cites Kirschener, Apocalyptic and Rabbinic Responses to the Destruction of A.D. 70, HTR, 78 (1987)27-28).
Gentry calls attention to the covenantal significance of the Temple: “In essence the temple itself is a symbol: it symbolizes the covenantal relationship of God with His people. The heart of the covenant appears in the most important promise: ‘I will be your God, you will be my people. The temple is the special place where God dwells among His people.” (Kenneth Gentry, He Shall Have Dominion, Draper, VA., Apologetics Group, 2009)362).
These citations, and many more could be given, demonstrate to a small degree how important the Temple was to the ancient Jews. (It should go without saying that we today have a difficult time grasping this mind-set, but, to properly understand the Bible, it behooves us to do so!) The temple represented the very presence of YHVH. It is where the God of the universe had placed His name! It is critical therefore, that we understand what the Bible actually says about Jesus and the Temple.
With these historical facts in mind, let me say that in his personal ministry Jesus made some stunning statements. Those statements have been, even to modern times, almost overlooked in discussions about the deity of Christ and his “self-identity.” In his debates with the Pharisees of his day, and in his actions in the temple, Jesus presented some ideas that when considered properly, force us to examine our concepts of Christology. Stay tuned!
For more on the Jewish mindset on the temple, see my book, The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat. In that book, I document even more extensively the Jewish thinking about the Jerusalem temple. In addition, I show that Jesus and the Temple is a critical issue for our understanding of the identify of Jesus as the Son of God.