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Jesus and the Temple

Jim Thompson - 9/29/2019

There’s a song from 2010, and its main lyric is: “Home is whenever I’m with you.” It’s the idea that home is far more than architecture or structure. True home is about belonging and intimacy and closeness. And I don’t think this is mere lyrical poetry. I think we feel this, whether it’s the physical presence of a loved one or the sense of relational nearness with friends, we all want this idea of home. 

In fact, the entire story of the Bible could rightly be told with the idea of home as one of its dominant themes. Home was meant to be the place where God and humanity shared a space. The Garden of Eden is described in the same terms as the Temple is later on in the Old Testament. So, the Garden was a Temple in which God’s goal was that he and humanity could both happily say to each other, “Home is whenever I’m with you.” 

But when we read the story of Scripture, we see that people continually presumed on God’s gift of his nearness. They often turned it into something that they used for their own gain. So, how does God respond to this? What does it mean for God to dwell again with his people? What will it look like for true Home to happen again? John tells a story of Jesus in John 2 that gives us clues to answer this. 

At Passover, there were Jewish people who set up shop in the Temple court. They were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging currency for pilgrims who were in Jerusalem from out of town. This doesn’t seem too terribly evil on the surface, but John says that Jesus knew their hearts. They weren’t just exchanging money. They were exchanging God for money. Money was their god. Greed was their lord and savior. These people were making a mockery of the Temple, the place that reminded God’s people that he would one day dwell with them again fully. So, what does Jesus do? He made a whip, unlocked animal cages, turned over their cash registers, and declared, “How dare you presume on God’s home by making it a marketplace? This is where God wants to make his dwelling with you, and you want to make it a place of finance for you.”

And interestingly, that part of the story fades, and John turns to a conversation between Jesus some of the Jewish leaders. They ask him, “What gives you the right to do what you just did? Show us a sign.” And Jesus’ response – in the immediate wake of people destroying the temple – is, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I’ll raise it up.” And the religious people didn’t get it. And Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it… Until a few years later. After Jesus died and resurrected, they remembered the exact moment of John 2 and re-interpreted it. And not only should we constantly re-interpret our entire lives are Jesus’ death and resurrection, but John specifically wants us to rethink this story about Jesus and the Temple in view of the crucifixion and resurrection.

From Genesis to Revelation, one of the most constant refrains is, “I will be their God, and they will be my people.” This is the same idea as “Home is whenever I’m with you.” That’s what God is after. But we run from it. And we seek belonging and intimacy elsewhere. The entire story of Israel played out in the Hebrew Bible is played out here in just a few verses in John, and that same story plays out in our own hearts, apart from God’s mercy. But in Jesus, God has come to definitively dwell with us again. Jesus is how God is making Home happen again. And he’s doing this climactically through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This is what is meant by Jesus’ words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Furthermore, God wants his Temple-Home with people to be pure and clean. He wants it to be beautiful, and not dirtied up with our sin and greed. So, Jesus’ death on our behalf is him taking all of our ugliness, filth, anger, greed, and lust into himself at the cross. He lets it destroy him. And in the Bible, the opposite of home is exile. And so, at Calvary, Jesus was exiled from his Father, so that we could be brought home. He’s the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the pure and perfect sacrifice that money can’t buy, offered up freely for us. And in doing this, he secures Eden again for all who turn away from their sin and turn to him in faith. His destroying the Temple that day was a picture that one day it would happen to him, and he would let it be so, so that he could overcome sin, and bring us Home.