In John 2:13-17 we find the account of Jesus walking into the Jerusalem temple to have a rather lively encounter with the money-changers and those who were profiting by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus, God incarnate, sees these activities and cleans house with zeal and authority. His actions fulfilled Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This section of Scripture has caused many people to place all sorts of restrictions about what we can and cannot do in church buildings. Is this action really applicable to modern church buildings and anything sold in a church premises? If John 2:13-17 is all you read, you might be inclined to think so. If you read further, there is more to consider in vs. 18-22.
“So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”
Jesus brought authoritative judgment into the Jerusalem temple and then claimed that he himself was the temple. This was of course confusing to all who heard it. The Jews were thinking of the physical structure of Herod’s temple being rebuilt in three days and the disciples were clueless onlookers until they witnessed the resurrection.
Essentially Jesus was showing that he himself was the fulfillment of the physical structure and its function. The temple was a place for obtaining right relationship with God through sacrifice. It was a place where Israel would gather for worship. It was a place that depicted God’s dwelling presence with his people and a constant reminder of the need for holiness. The zeal Jesus displayed with the money-changers had everything to do with their contempt for sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. When Jesus refers to himself as the temple it has everything to do with sacrificial atonement, God’s presence, worship, and holiness. All of this was fully displayed in Christ through his death and victorious resurrection.
Jesus has replaced the function of the temple. He is the once and for all sacrifice, the presence of God with his people, the only access to worship the Father, and the justifier of repentant sinners. As soon as you read Jesus’ statement about his own body you realize that the people of God no longer worship through a location but a Person. Jesus, The Temple, not the church building, the temple.
When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples believed the Scriptures. Which Scriptures did they believe? One could argue that they believed Scriptures such as Psalm 16:8-11 that talk about the body not seeing corruption and being raised. Perhaps though the disciples realized that the physical temple had become a thing of the past because everything has been achieved by the once and for all Lamb of God. All of the Scriptures about the function of the temple had been completed in three short terrible and glorious days.
What did one Temple say to the other temple? “It is finished.”