Jesus and the Temple in Jerusalem| One Greater Than the Temple is Here!
In the previous installments of this short series,Jesus and the Temple #1 and Jesus and the Temple #2 we have examined the Jewish view of the Temple, and how it stood as the center of their world. It was the dwelling place of God. It was the very symbol of Israel’s election by YHVH. It symbolized that covenant relationship. It truly was the center of the Jewish world (cf. Ezekiel 5:8-9). The Temple in Jerusalem was “everything” to the Jew!
We followed that with an examination of the impact of the destruction of that Temple had on the Jewish world. This article is devoted to examining those two articles in the light of one of Jesus’ most astounding – yet commonly overlooked – statements. To fully grasp the power of his words, I will give a good bit of the context:
“At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the show bread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-8).
The Temple in Jerusalem and the Sabbath
Needless to say, Sabbath and Temple went hand in hand. The Temple was where Torah, which mandated and regulated Sabbath, was housed, in the Ark of the Covenant. The Sabbath was a distinctive covenant between Israel and her God, a constant reminder of how He delivered her from bondage (Deuteronomy 5). Sabbath was a sign – the sign – of God’s marriage to Israel, and thus, violation of the Sabbath was a violation of that marriage covenant relationship. Thus, in some situations, violation of Sabbath often constituted spiritual adultery (Ezekiel 20)! Violation of Sabbath, in any way, was more – far, far more – than the modern equivalent of missing church services!
So, when Jesus was accused of violating the Sabbath in Matthew 12, this was indeed serious stuff. Going all the way back to the book of Numbers 15, violation of Sabbath could be a capital offence!
But, Jesus’ response to the charge demonstrated the hypocrisy within Judaism and Phariseeism of the day. They well understood that there were exceptions to the Sabbath laws that permitted certain actions. Those actions were almost always humanitarian in form. In other words, human need, human compassion took precedence over legalistic, rigid mechanical observance of Sabbath. And Jesus’ allusions to the story of David fleeing from Saul demonstrated this principle.
Jesus likewise reminded his accusers that the priests likewise performed functions on the Sabbath in the temple in Jerusalem that could be construed and defined as “work” and thus, a violation of the Sabbath. Yet, the Pharisees well understood that the “work” of the priests was permitted, no, necessary to the observance of the Sabbath for they were the mediators of Torah for the nation.
So, Jesus appealed to the actions of the greatest king of Israel and, he appealed to the actions of the representatives of the nation, as mediators, to prove that certain actions on Sabbath were permitted. But, it is here that he makes his astounding statement: “One greater than the Temple is here.”
To say that this was stunning is a huge understatement! Jesus sequed from the accusation of the violation of the Sabbath to claiming to be greater than the Temple itself! But, of course, he did not stop there. He then immediately added, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus: Lord of the Temple in Jerusalem; Lord of the Sabbath!
The logic here is clear. If Jesus was greater than the Temple in Jerusalem, he most assuredly was Lord of the Sabbath, for it was the God of the Temple that gave the Sabbath, ruled over the Sabbath, was glorified in the Temple!
Since the Temple represented God who dwelt there, only God was greater than the Temple! For Jesus to claim to be greater than the Temple was – fundamentally – to claim to be God! To claim that he was greater than the Sabbath – to be Lord of the Sabbath – was to claim the divine prerogative.
Jesus said he was coming “in the glory of the Father” in the glory that belonged to the Father and that the Father had manifested in the past. Jesus said that he would judge in the same manner as he had seen the Father judge in the past, “so that all men might honor the son, as they honor the Father.” Jesus’ parousia would reveal him as “King of kings and Lord of Lords” the “true God” (1 Timothy 6:15f / Revelation 19). And, Jesus’ statement that “one greater than the Temple is here” was nothing less than a claim to be God!
For more on the incredible Christological claims that Jesus made, see my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory.
In Jesus’ claim to be greater than the Temple in Jerusalem, we find one of the greatest Christological claims to be found anywhere in scripture!