A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius," in addition to articles on other related subjects and many new era Christian sermons.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

9 Destroy this Temple

9 Destroy this Temple 

Today's sermon comes from
John 2:18-21:

"18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

These words, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” are spoken just after Jesus has cleansed the temple of the moneylenders. His enemies, as usual, are hoping to extract some seditious or blasphemous statement from Him by asking Him by what authority He does these things. With His usual flamboyance Jesus comes up with a reply that both evades and confounds His enemies. The sound bite, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” became a kind of signature for Jesus during His short stay in Jerusalem. "Oh yeah, He's the guy who's gonna tear down the temple, and throw it back up, har, har."

One of the interesting things I noted while researching this scripture was that there are several aspects of Jesus' statement that are open to interpretation; for instance, many people think that for the scene to make sense it requires some dramaturgy--some staging. There are disagreements. To whom is Jesus speaking when He says, "Destroy this temple"? Is He motioning with his finger toward Himself or toward the Pharisees? Which temple is He referring to, the stone temple in front of Him, or the human body in which His own spirit now dwells? The story is like Shakespeare--you can stage it many ways, but the bottom-line interpretation remains the same: this temple, this body is temporal, but the spirit is eternal.

The historical significance of the story is that it is Jesus' first public declaration, in Jerusalem, of His Divine mission as the Messiah. I place emphasis on this, because the three years He spent ministering in the countryside OUTSIDE Jerusalem function as mere prelude to the final week He spent INSIDE Jerusalem--the Big Apple. True, this particular trip to Jerusalem, the first reported in the Bible since Jesus was 12, was only one of several times that Jesus visited Jerusalem; but it must be admitted that His impact for good and ill was greater in the city than in the country, and each time He visited the city His enemies became more enraged and vindictive. Thus, His adventures in Nazareth, Cana, Bethany, and there and about, were material for myth to be sure, and they provide us with the stories and sayings that constitute the sacred Gospels, but, truth to be told, the culmination of His plans to initiate the building of a Heaven on Earth takes place in Jerusalem, where the big political forces lived and made history. Thus, in the very beginning are sown the seeds of the end, because from the beginning Jesus states His business, and prophesies the outcome--His crucifixion. The cycle of birth and death runs as an irresistible background behind every word Jesus speaks.

I thought that, while we're talking about temples, you might like to hear some background on the temple in question:

Second Temple‬
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The Second Temple was an important Jewish shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon.

The accession of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BCE made the re-establishment of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple possible. According to the Bible, when the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem following a decree from Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:1-4, 2 Chron 36:22-23), construction started at the original site of Solomon's Temple, which had remained a devastated heap during the approximately 70 years of captivity (Dan. 9:1-2). After a relatively brief halt due to opposition from peoples who had filled the vacuum during the Jewish captivity (Ezra 4), work resumed c. 521 BCE under the Persian King Darius (Ezra 5) and was completed during the sixth year of his reign (c. 518/517 BCE), with the temple dedication taking place the following year.
Around 19 BCE, Herod the Great renovated the Temple, which became known as Herod's Temple.

The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 CE under Titus, decisively ending the Great Jewish Revolt that had begun four years earlier. The lower levels of the Western Wall form part of the few surviving remains of Herod's complex.
Traditional rabbinic sources state that the Second Temple stood for 420 years and based on the 2nd-century work Seder Olam Rabbah, place construction in 350 BCE (3408 AM), 166 years later than secular estimates, and destruction in 70 CE (3829 AM)."

So, we're talking about a building that had been around a LONG time. The mere suggestion, to the Jews, of destroying such an established entity, a primary signifier for the identity of the entire Jewish State, must have struck fear into the pharisees' hearts down to the very foundations. Notice how Jesus takes the material of the moment, (the Temple), and uses the smoke and mirrors of language to unveil the cosmic significance of it. Very cool. And He can do that with ANYTHING! So, was it just a metaphor, or did Jesus speak true words of prophecy (since we know the temple was completely destroyed by the Romans a mere 70 years later)? As usual, with Jesus, it's both--
1. symbolic statements, in the style of the parable, and
2. true prophecy.

What a guy! I mean you have to admire the STYLE on the dude--He was so on top of those Pharisees--He saw them coming way down the road. And yet he rushed into their arms, loving them all the time they were killing them! I'm sure that one of the most infuriating things about, Jesus to the Pharisees, was His great beaming smile. And yet, we may be sure that the compassionate Jesus was laughing with them not at them; with a little condescension, to be sure, but still perfectly accepting. Would that I could be half as accepting.

The following is an Easter Meditation on John 2:13-19 written by Tim Melton on April 23, 2011. It includes more history about the various temples, and comes to a conclusion about the significance of Jesus' promise to raise the temple in three days:

You Will Tear It Down, But I Will Raise it Up Again

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.
You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves,
and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area,
both sheep and cattle;
he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said,
“Get these out of here!

How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

…Then the Jews demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
How do we understand these words of Jesus?  What does He mean,
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

 To understand, we have go back to that ancient Garden, the Garden of Paradise, the very home of God, where the Lord dwelt together with Adam and Eve in peace and harmony.  This is the setting of our original design. This was our home.  Our Temple and God’s Temple. God dwelling with man.  Indeed, all the world was a temple of the Holy Spirit.  All the world was the Holy Place.  All the world was where man reclined himself in the arms of God.  And so we rested safe in Him, delighting in His Love, resting in His Grace, until that fate filled moment.  That moment when the Serpent of old cast doubt in our hearts…and we ate of that forbidden knowledge.  We swallowed darkness.  We kissed the mouth of shame.  And thus we were cast from the bosom of our God, cast away from the Garden, cast away from the Temple, the dwelling place of God. But in Genesis 3:15 is the whisper…”

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

And all men after dwelt on the face of the earth in pain, in darkness, and in death.  But then, the Lord appeared to Abraham and a promise came.  A promise of the Garden, A Land, A People.  God would dwell with man once more.  God would not leave us forsaken.  He would not leave us without hope.  Then with the Prophet Moses, the promise grew.  A people specially chosen to dwell with Christ.  A nation of blessed ones received the Garden once more.  And so, coming down from Holy Mountain Sinai, inside these people, inside their mobile city, inside their makeshift camp, inside a tent, deep inside…the Word of God rested within a tiny box.  Here was a tiny swatch of the Garden, a footprint of paradise, here was the Tabernacle. God dwelt with men once more.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Yet, the Garden had no home.  No permanent place to rest.  So King Solomon, son of David, gave a stationary home to the Garden.  Still a swatch.  Still a patch.  Only a fingerprint of Eden. Only a fingernail of Glory. Yet, this tabernacle of wood and cloth came to rest upon a land of promise, and a cornerstone was laid in Zion, upon the Holy Hill of God.  Glory.  Glory.  Glory.  Bedecked with jewels and gold, this Holy structure blazed in the noon-day sun.  God dwelled among men.  The Temple was established.  The City set on a Hill.  The City of God.  The Garden now stood still and men poured forth from all four corners of the world to get a glimpse of the Holy Wall, around the City, around the Holy Place, around the Holy of Holies, the Word of God kept safe within a tiny box, the Ark of the Covenant, where a tiny patch of Eden housed the Glory of God.

“You will tear it down, but I will raise it up again.”

But just like before, the garden could not last.  The Kings of Israel and Judah sinned against God just like their Grandparents before them.  They bit the fruit of forbidden knowledge.  They swallowed darkness.  They kissed the mouth of shame.  In 786 B.C. the glory of God departed.  Walls: burned.  The Temple: torched.  The tiny box containing the Word of God was torn from the fingers of men.  And just like Adam and Eve before them, the people were cast out of the Garden in Shame, led away in tears.  Led away in chains.

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

70 years later a second temple was built again by Zerubbabel.  This time.  No beauty.  No glory.  Just a shell really.  The tiny box of Eden was gone.  Without the Word of God inside the Ark of the Covenant, the temple was as hollow as old woman’s womb.  Like a barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.  They wept for the Garden.  They wept for the Glory.  They wept for the Word.  They wept, longing to be held once again in the bosom of their God. But a promise came through the Prophet Haggai.  “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? It seems like nothing to you. But now be strong.  Be strong, for I am with you. I will keep my promise.  My Spirit remains among you.  I will take care of you.  I am with you. Do not fear.  The Desired One of all nations will come to you I will fill this house with His Glory. The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the one before it.”

“You have torn it down, but I will raise it up again.”

Then one night, underneath a Shepherd’s Star, the garden of Eden returned.  Inside a cursed city.  Inside a stable.  Inside a barn.  Lying in a manger.  Wrapped in swaddling clothes.  The Word of God, not in a box, but made one with a little boy.  The Word made flesh dwelt among us.  The tabernacle of God inside a baby’s chest.  The Garden of the Lord resting in a young girls’ arms.  And so He grew, the Word of God, and fulfilled Haggai’s promise.  As the very Glory of God, breezed into the temple and said “This is my Father’s House.  This house belongs to me.” And further he went.  Into the Holy Place, and behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies.
The Word of God made Flesh said this is my Home.
And so the religious leaders demanded of him,
“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

And they did. 
They tore him down.  Down.  Down.  Down. They reviled him.  They dismantled him.
They insulted him. They cursed Him.
They tore that Temple of Flesh and Blood down to the ground.
They Spit on the House of God.
They mocked and jeered the Word of God made flesh.
They stripped Him down in Shame.
They Defiled the Holy Garden.
In Bloody Sorrow, they ripped that Temple down.
And like a barren wife, the people of God laid down and wept.
They wept for the Garden.
They wept for the Glory.
The wept for the Word.
They wept…
And But not for long.  Not long at all.

Because He did.
They did.But He did.

For three days later, never more to fall,
Glory came back to the World,
The Garden raised up from the ground,
Sin and Death and Shame were Slain.
The Curse was Cursed.
And all the world became the Holy Place.
And all God’s People became an everlasting Temple of the Holy Spirit.
Because Jesus, now and forevermore, has raised it up again.

The following online article: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up, gives a very good summary of the important points of this story:

"Scripture: John 2:13-25 
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business.
15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."
18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?"
19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
20 The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?"
21 But he spoke of the temple of his body.
22 When therefore he  was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
23 Now  when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did;
24 but Jesus did not trust himself to them,
25 because he knew all men and needed no one to 
bear witness of man; for he himself knew what was in man.

Meditation: What can keep us from the presence of God?  Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple was seen by his disciples as a prophetic sign of God’s action.  The temple was understood as the dwelling place of God among his people.  When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he brought them through the sea, and finally to Mount Sinai where he made a covenant with them and gave them a new way of life embodied in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  God gave Moses instruction for worship and for making the Tabernacle, or tent of meeting, which was later replaced by the temple. The New Testament tells us that these “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” – God’s Temple in heaven (Hebrews 8:5).  Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is also a prophetic sign of what he wants to do with each of us.  He ever seeks to cleanse us of sin and make us living temples of his Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Do you thirst for holiness?

Jesus referred to the temple as his Father’s house which was being made into “house of trade” (John 2:16) or “den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). That is why he used physical force to expel the money-changers.  The prophecy of Malachi foretold the coming of the Lord unexpectedly to his Temple to “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord” (Malachi3:1-4). Jesus' disciples recalled the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This was understood as a Messianic prophecy. Here the disciples saw more clearly Jesus as the Messiah who burned with zeal for God's house.

The Jewish authorities, however, wanted proof that Jesus had divine authority to act as he did. They demanded a sign from God to prove Jesus right, otherwise, they would treat him as an imposter and a usurper of their authority. Jesus replied that the sign God would give would be his resurrection: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". The Jews did not understand that the temple Jesus referred to was his own body. The “tent of his body” had to be destroyed to open the way to the presence of God for us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus not only reconciles us with God, but he fills us with his Holy Spirit and make us temples of the living God (1 Cor. 6:19-20). God's word enlightens our minds and purifies our hearts that we may offer God fitting worship and enjoy his presence both now and forever. Do you burn with zeal for the Lord’s house?

"Lord Jesus Christ, you open wide the door of your Father’s house and you bid us to enter confidently that we may worship in spirit and truth. Help me to draw near to your throne of mercy with gratitude and joy".
We begin to see that Jesus claims with authority from his ability to perform miracles--His own resurrection."

This is from Barnes' Notes on the Bible
"Destroy this temple - The evangelist informs us John 2:21 that by "temple," here, he meant his body. It is not improbable that he pointed with his finger to his body as he spoke. The word "destroy," used here in the "imperative," has rather the force of the "future." Its meaning may thus be expressed: "You are now profaners of the temple of God. You have defiled the sanctuary; you have made it a place of traffic. You have also despised my authority, and been unmoved by the miracles which I have already performed. But your wickedness will not end here. You will oppose me more and more; you will reject and despise me, until in your wickedness you will take my life and 'destroy' my body." Here was therefore a distinct prediction both of his death and the cause of it. The word "temple," or "dwelling," was not unfrequently used by the Jews to denote the "body" as being the residence of the spirit, 2 Corinthians 5:1. Christians are not unfrequently called the temple of God, as being those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells on earth, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16. Our Saviour called his body a temple in accordance with the common use of language, and more particularly because "in him the fulness of the Godhead dwelt bodily," Colossians 2:9. The temple at Jerusalem was the appropriate dwelling-place of God. His visible presence was there especially manifested, 2 Chronicles 36:15; Psalm 76:2. As the Lord Jesus was divine - as the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him so his body might be called a "temple."

[Sidebar: The identification of the human body as the temple of God is more than a poetic construction; here, Jesus is claiming an intimate identification of himself with the church--He is saying, "I am the church; and if you follow Me you will become the church!" Saint Paul says, in
1 Corinthians 3:17:

"If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are."

Thus, we are the church in exact proportion to how closely we identify with Jesus and His divine establishment.

As an historian, of sorts, I have often contemplated the effect that Jesus had on the world. It really is, indeed, a staggering accomplishment; there have been unbelievable acts of subhuman cruelty performed in the name of Jesus, but I think it is fair to say that the church established a heaven on Earth, not because the church building is heavenly, but because this bureaucratic structure, this warehouse of the Holy Scriptures, continues, through the years, to make the wisdom, and grace of Jesus universally accessible. I don't think we have to quibble about whether Jesus is for everyone--as we have seen many times in our discussions of parable, many people can handle just so much Jesus before they tap out. Still others hear His words to the fullest and live transformed lives and transform lives accordingly. In short, you can give Jesus to all the people some of the time, to some of the people all the time, but you can't give Jesus to all the people all the time; it is a flawed system, but it works. It works for us, it works for me. Thank you Jesus.]

On with Barnes' Notes on the Bible:

In three days I will raise it up - The Jews had asked a "miracle" of him in proof of his authority that is, a proof that he was the Messiah. He tells them that a full and decided proof of that would be his "resurrection from the dead." Though they would not be satisfied by any other miracle, yet by this they ought to be convinced that he came from heaven, and was the long-expected Messiah. He refers them to the same evidence, revealed on other occasions, that he was the Christ. Thus early did he foretell his death and resurrection, for at the beginning of his work he had a clear foresight of all that was to take place.

This knowledge shows clearly that he came from heaven, and it evinces, also, the extent of his love that he was "willing" to come to save us, knowing clearly what it would cost him. Had he come "without" such an expectation of suffering, his love might have been far less; but when he fully knew all that was before him, when he saw that it would involve him in contempt and death, it shows compassion "worthy of a God" that he was willing to endure the load of all our sorrows, and die to save us from death everlasting.

When Jesus says, "I will raise it up," it is proof, also, of divine power. A mere "man" could not say this. No deceased "man" can have such power over his body; and there must have been, therefore, in the person of Jesus a nature superior to human to which the term "I" could be applied, and which had power to raise the dead - that is, which was divine."

Once again, we see the propensity of Christians to depend on miracles as the foundation of belief; to somehow insist that it is the power to work miracles that is the defining trait of divinity, rather than the idea that divinity brings with it a plethora of powers, of which the working of miracles is merely one of many subordinate ones. My problem with this is that, as we have discussed before, we are surrounded by little miracles every day, so it is hard for me to condone belief based on sensation, phenomenology. Understand, it is not hard for me to accept the miracle, and it is not hard to believe the miracle, it is simply dangerous to place too much emphasis on the phenomenology of the miracle. There are so many wonders in this world that may seduce our attention away from God--miracles, if given too much weight, may become even such a distraction. Plus, I keep remembering Jesus' words to Doubting Thomas:

"Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

There is another aspect of this story that I wanted to comment on before we close: I wanted to think about what this story has to do with attachment. All this talk about destroying evokes, in the listener's perspective, a warlike or some other negative attitude, an attitude which may not be consistent with the scripture at all. Notice that death and rebirth are contained in the same sentence, death and rebirth are presented as a unity. If Jesus points His finger at the Pharisees when he says, "Destroy", He is affirming the existence of man's ancient tendency toward negativity in the face of the unexplained; if Jesus points His finger at Himself when he says, "Destroy", He is adding to the resonance of the metaphor by equating Himself with the Church, He is prophesying, AND He is suggesting that all life will die and be reborn. This is really Jesus' big message: THERE IS NO DEATH. Out of this one FACT, every moral principle known to Man logically follows. The fact that there is no death is a first principle from which every other principle springs.

What does this have to do with attachment? Well, it's not too difficult to suggest that part of the reason people are selfish, or stingy, is because they think there isn't enough to go around--they think they have to hoard everything they have, because, if they don't, you might get some of theirs, and then they will be in want. Boo hoo. They think that there isn't enough, because death ends it; the fear of death, the effort to put off death by accumulating goods, the losing of the self in the gutter of sensation and phenomenology--these things motivate every immoral act; and every immoral act is wrong because it just doesn't admit to eternal life.

If everybody had the sense that there was infinite time, and infinite material, and everybody has forever to get, or see, or do EVERYTHING, maybe they wouldn't be so grasping; maybe they would realize that there is time enough, and space enough, and enough stuff for everybody. Jesus is not only saying that the things of temporal existence are impermanent, illusory, but He is saying that there is no point in being attached to these physical things because they are just going to die and become something new anyway. It is a miracle how lightly Jesus throws off His physical body--as if the rebuilding of the Human Temple was the snap of fingers! You can't get attached to a sunbeam--no matter how you try to contain it, it slips right through your fingers. We are beings of light and cannot be contained by physical constraints, any more than can a sunbeam.

John 2:18-21:

"18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”
21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

Before we close, I wanted to point out a delightful synchronicity that has reared its nose into our recent activities, to whit: You will no doubt have noticed that I am sometimes oblivious to seasonal signifiers, like turkey sermons on Thanksgiving, etc. I usually have my own agenda, which consumes my attention, at the expense of sensitivity to current events. Last year I went through the Synoptic Gospels a section at a time, and now I'm slavishly going through John a section at a time; we are at the very beginning of John, barely out of the second chapter. The interesting thing, vis. a vis. seasonal considerations, is how I stumbled onto an Easter sermon, evoked by an event that is cited at the very beginning of the book, something that happened at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem. For, indeed, this first public statement of Jesus contains the beginning and the end in a single moment. Just as Christmas always has the shadow of the crucifixion hanging over it, so does Easter proclaim a rebirth.

To be sure, I had intended to start talking about Easter stuff pretty soon, but little did I suspect that I would be stumbling, so soon, into seasonal synchronicities and epiphanies. I mean to say that, as Easter approaches, if we can kindle the same enthusiasm and interest in Easter that we did for Christmas, we will have have a glorious numinous moment when the moment arrives. We are drawn to it--we are drawn to the tomb, and are exalted when we finally manage to look past it.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for your wisdom. Your words are ever gentle on our hearts. Fears and anxieties may invade our sleep, but Your Presence, carried to our minds through Your words, soothes our panting brains, and gives us peace. Thanks again for that. Amen

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