Jesus - The True Temple (John 2:12-25)


‘The Temple Mount is like a smouldering volcano that is bubbling and threatening to erupt - a threat that is liable to endanger Israel’s existence.’ That was the summary of a report handed to the Israeli prime minister by the former Israeli secret service chief Carmi Gillon and the former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz in January 2001. And the tragedy is this – Christians are ready to light the fuse.


However hard it may be to believe, many Christians, are convinced the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt soon and that animal sacrifices are going to be offered once again. Indeed, some are actually funding Jewish extremists committed to destroying the Muslim Dome of the Rock and replacing it with a Jewish Temple. They are even breeding red heifers necessary to purify the priests and building.


And this is not a minority sport either. A recent Gallup Poll found that 58% of Israeli’s support the Temple Mount Faithful and the rebuilding of the Temple. What makes this poll so significant is that, while Israeli society is generally divided on most other subjects, this was the largest show of support any organisation has ever received on any issue.

Just 500 metres by 300 metres, according to Hal Lindsey, the the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.”[1] Yisrael Meida explains the significance of the Temple Mount to religious Jews.


It is all a matter of sovereignty. He who controls the Temple Mount, controls Jerusalem. And he who controls Jerusalem, controls the land of Israel.[2]


Lindsey is representative of many Christians who are convinced that the Jewish Temple will be rebuilt very soon.


Obstacle or no obstacle, it is certain that the Temple will be rebuilt. Prophecy demands it... With the Jewish nation reborn in the land of Palestine, ancient Jerusalem once again under total Jewish control for the first time in 2600 years, and talk of rebuilding the great Temple, the most important sign of Jesus Christ’s soon coming is before us... It is like the key piece of a jigsaw puzzle being found... For all those who trust in Jesus Christ, it is a time of electrifying excitement.[3]


There are at least eight extreme Jewish organisations involved in attempts to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, rebuild the Jewish Temple and re-institute Temple worship, priesthood and sacrifices. These include the Temple Institute and Temple Mount Faithful.[4] Gershon Salomon is the founder of the Temple Mount Faithful. Speaking at the Jerusalem Christian Zionist Congress in 1998, Salomon insisted,


The mission of the present generation is to liberate the Temple Mount and to remove - I repeat, to remove - the defiling abomination there ... The Jewish people will not be stopped at the gates leading to the Temple Mount ... We will fly our Israeli flag over the Temple Mount, which will be minus its Dome of the Rock and its mosques and will have only our Israeli flag and our Temple. This is what our generation must accomplish.[5]


Sam Kiley writing in the Times gives another perspective. He claims Salomon represents the ‘...almost acceptable face of millennial cults.’ In an interview with Kiley, Salomon insisted that the Islamic shrine must be destroyed.


The Israeli Government must do it. We must have a war. There will be many nations against us but God will be our general. I am sure this is a test, that God is expecting us to move the Dome with no fear from other nations. The Messiah will not come by himself, we should bring Him by fighting.[6]


Such sentiments are shared by many Christian leaders. Organisations such as the International Christian Embassy and Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, have been influential in gathering significant financial and political support for the Temple Mount Foundation.[7] Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has also raised funds for Gershon Salomon’s Temple Mount Faithful.[8]


So what could bring both Jews and Christians to agree on such a controversial subject? The belief that the Bible not only predicts but mandates the rebuilding of the Temple. Lets consider the evidence. Belief in the necessity for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple rests on three main texts.


Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple in Ezekiel 40-46.

Daniel’s warning of the desecration of the Temple in Daniel 9:24-27

Jesus warning of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24:15-16.


Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple

The logic is that since the Temple Ezekiel describes and measures has never been built it must await future fulfilment. The problem with this logic is, as we shall see, the NT says nothing of the sort, indeed Jesus has replaced the need for a Temple. But even within Ezekiel’s vision, the text poses problems even for literalists. For example, Ezekiel 43:19 says,


    “You are to give a young bull as a sin offering to the priests, who are Levites, of the family of Zadok, who come near to minister before me, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Ezekiel 43:19)


Advocates of a rebuilt Temple include Cyrus Scofield. This is what he says in his reference Bible.


Doubtless these offerings will be memorial, looking back to the cross, as the offerings under the old covenant were anticipatory, looking forward to the cross. In neither case have animal sacrifices power to put away sin (Heb. 10.4; Rom. 3.25).[9]


In fact the verse explicitly refers to the sacrifice of a ‘young bullock as a sin offering.’ If Scofield appears to fudge the issue suggesting this is only a memorial sacrifice, the New Scofield Reference Bible note on the same verse goes further, undermining the whole basis for this literalistic way of reading the Bible.


The reference to sacrifices is not to be taken literally, in view of the putting away of such offerings, but is rather to be regarded as a presentation of the worship of redeemed Israel, in her own land and in the millennial Temple, using the terms with which the Jews were familiar in Ezekiel’s day.[10]


If this particular reference to sacrifice in Ezekiel 43 need not be taken literally then why can’t the measurements Ezekiel uses also be symbolic of Herod’s Temple?[11] A literalist hermeneutic precludes the possibility that the sacrifice of a young bullock can be synonymous with a memorial offering consisting of grain and oil.[12]


The immediate context for Ezekiel vision of a rebuilt Temple is the promised return of the Jews from Babylonian exile, not some long distant eschatological event.  This would have been utterly meaningless to the exiles longing to return to Israel.


Daniel’s warning of the desecration of the Temple

One of the most frequently quoted Old Testament passages by Christian Zionists is Daniel 9:26-27.


"The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.  He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven'. In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing {of the temple} he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (Daniel 9:26-27)


The sanctuary appears to have already been destroyed in verse 26 yet sacrifices are brought to an end in verse 27 and then the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ desecrates the Temple. On the basis of a literal chronology in which it is necessary to place a gap of nearly 2000 years between the verses. There is nothing in the text that warrants or justifies such cutting and pasting.


Such logic is at variance with the way in which the New Testament itself speaks of the place of Temple and sacrifice.


Jesus warning of the destruction of the Temple

The most important New Testament passage referring to the Jewish Temple is Matthew 24:1-2 and 15. Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down… So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand.” (Matthew 24:1-2, 15)


While those who favour a rebuilt Temple agree that in the first two verses Jesus is warning of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, they claim that by verse 15 Jesus is describing the desecration of another future Temple which has yet to be built.


Most commentators however, understand Jesus to be referring to  the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The earliest was an eye-witness Josephus - the contemporary Jewish historian working for the Romans. Writing in his book, the Jewish Wars, Josephus links Daniel’s prophecy to the desecration of the Temple and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 66-70.


And indeed it so came to pass, that our nation suffered these things under Antiochus Epiphanes, according to Daniel’s vision. And what he wrote many years before they came to pass. In the very same manner Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them.[1]


Josephus also specifically associates the desecration of the Temple with the activities of Jewish Zealots who, between November 67 and the Spring of 68 AD., used the Temple as a military fortress, murdered Jewish opponents within it and even entered the Holiest of Holies.


For there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burned, by right of war, when a rebellion should invade the Jews, and their own hand should pollute the temple of God. Now while these zealots did not [quite] disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their own accomplishments.[2]


The best esteemed also of the high priests... Ananus stood in the midst of them, and casting his eyes frequently at the temple, and having a flood of tears in his eyes, he said, “Certainly it had been good for me to die before I had seen the house of God full of so many abominations, or these sacred places, that ought not to be trodden upon at random, filled with the feet of these blood-shedding villains”; [who] walk about in the midst of the holy places, at the very time when their hands are still warm with the slaughter of their own countrymen.[3]


Believing God would intervene and deliver them by force, the Zealots invited the Idumean army of some 20,000 troops to come and help defend Jerusalem from the Romans. Josephus tells us that instead, the Idumeans took advantage of the city and plundered it, filling the Temple with the blood of those slaughtered including the family of the High Priest Ananus.


Josephus regarded the death of Ananus as the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem.[4] It is probable therefore that Jewish Christians also recognised in the murder of Ananus and the appointment of apostate high priests like Phannias, the sacrilege Jesus had warned of in Matthew 24, and so fled Jerusalem for the mountains of Pella on the other side of the Jordan.[5] The Temple was subsequently defiled yet again by the invading Roman army. The Roman soldiers worshipped the eagle on their ensigns and placed them in the Temple where they offered sacrifices to their pagan gods. Josephus describes the scene.


And now the Romans, upon the flight of the rebellious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings around it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them near to its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there they did make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.[6]


As a 1st Century eyewitness and historian, Josephus shows how the Temple was desecrated on numerous occasions first by Jewish Zealots, then by the marauding Idumeans and finally by Titus and his Roman army.  While the Idumeuns and Romans did subsequently desecrate the Temple, it was first and foremost the Jews who, having rejected Jesus and declared Caesar to be their only king, appointed apostate high priests and used the Temple as a fortress against Rome, who ultimately fulfilled the words of Jesus and made Temple worship idolatrous.[7] 


There is in fact not a single verse in the New Testament which promises that a Jewish Temple would be rebuilt, that a 2000 year ‘parenthesis’ should be placed between references to its desecration and destruction, or indeed that the Temple in Jerusalem would play any part in God’s purposes after the cross. Christians who advocate a new Temple must therefore ignore the way in which the Temple is invested with new meaning in the New Testament and becomes instead an image of the Church.


Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)


Peter uses the same terminology to describe the way Christians are being made into the new house of God,[13] in which Jesus is the ‘precious cornerstone’.[14] Peter quotes directly from Exodus 19 using the promise made to the Jews but now applies it to Christians.


    But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)


The movement in the progressive revelation of Scripture is always from the lesser to the greater. It is never reversed. The New Testament repeatedly sees such Old Testament concepts as the Temple, High Priest and sacrifice as ‘types’ pointing to and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.[15] Christians who therefore advocate the rebuilding of the Temple are regressing into a pre-Christian sacrificial system, superseded, made redundant and annulled by the finished work of Jesus Christ. The Temple was only a temporary edifice, a shadow and type anticipating the day when God would dwell with people of all nations through the atoning work of the true Temple, Jesus Christ.[16]


Please turn with me to John 2:12-22. With this historical and biblical context I believe we are now ready to understand what Jesus was doing and saying on this occasion in the Temple. Notice even the time Jesus chose to visit the Temple was significant - verse 13. “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” (John 2:13). This is the first clue. Jesus the Lamb of God - the true sacrifice came to the Temple - the place of sacrifice at Passover - the time of sacrifice.


1. Jesus Angry in the Temple (John 2:14-15)

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. (John 2:14-15)


Built to enable all people to worship God, access to the Temple of God had become effectively restricted to those who could afford to buy the sacrificial animals and pay for them in the Temple's own currency. Jesus made a whip of cords with which to drive out the tradesmen and money changers. This is one of the rare occasions we see Jesus anger burning. Most Bibles preface this passage with the words “Jesus clears the Temple” or “Jesus cleanses the Temple.” Remember the italicized headings are not part of the inspired text. On this occasion I believe they are wrong. I do not believe Jesus was merely cleansing nor clearing the Temple.

Jesus anger in the Temple.


2. Jesus Jealous for the Temple (John 2:16-20)

To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"


Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."  The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" (John 2:17-20)


The Jews were proud of their Temple - its size and magnificence.

Even the disciples were impressed at the giant stones.

 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"

(Mark 13:1)


But Jesus was neither proud nor mesmerized by the Temple. He was instead jealous for what the Temple was intended to be - the place where people could meet with God and have their sins fogiven. In John 2:17 it says, His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." This is a quotation from Psalm 69:9 “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Jesus was jealous because these religious charlatans were putting a price on God’s love and making a profit out of it. The synoptic gospels elaborate on Jesus reply to those who questioned his authority.   "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be a house of prayer'; but you have made it 'a den of robbers'." (Luke 19:46)


Jesus is quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah. Isaiah had looked forward to the day when all nations would be accepted into God’s people.

“these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7). Then Jeremiah sees how this wonderful vision will become distorted and corrupted.  “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus combines these two prophecies to explain his actions, "It is written," he said to them, " `My house will be a house of prayer' ; but you have made it `a den of robbers.' " (Luke 19:46). Selling sacrificial animals, even in the Temple forecourt, was fine. That was not the issue. But cheating the poor and preventing people from other nations from meeting with God was another matter entirely.


Jesus angry in the Temple. Jesus jealous for the Temple. Because it was intended to prepare people for the day when they would recognize.


3. Jesus suffered as the Temple (John 2:21-22)

But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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. (John 2:12-22)


Challenged to justify his behaviour and prove his authority, Jesus points to his own body as the true Temple. Destroy this temple and he would rebuild it in three days because, unlike Herod’s Temple, his body was the perfect expression of its holy purpose, which was to glorify God. Here we have the first hint of his resurrection, later to be made more explicit when Jesus proclaimed 'I am Resurrection and Life.'            The purpose of the imperfect earthly Temple had been fulfilled. The Lamb of God had come to the perfect heavenly Temple and at the Passover was sacrificed for us.


This is certainly the NT understanding. It is no coincidence that just as Jesus died on the cross, Matthew tells us, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27:51)


The wall of separation between a Holy God and sinful wall was torn down never to be rebuilt. No longer do we need to visit Jerusalem and offer blood sacrifices to make atonement for our sin. Jesus has done that for us, once for all, once for all time, once for all people. That is why Jesus predicted to the Samaritan woman in John 4,  "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem... Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:21-24)


So the question we need to ask ourselves this evening is this: Do our lives and actions reveal or hide, do they assist or thwart the loving purposes of God in our community? Our bodies should not be commodities at the mercy of passing fads: the way we treat them should be fitting to their purpose as temples of the Holy Spirit. Likewise our church building is holy not because we only do 'religious' things here but because whatever we do here should enable all people, young and old, indigenous and expatriates, to be welcomed and to experience here the saving love of God found in Jesus Christ alone. So what changes do we need to make personally and collectively in 2005, for our house, whether our body or this building, to truly bear the name of God, to worship God in spirit and truth?

Lets pray.


[1]Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, The New Complete Works of Josephus (Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999), Book 10, Chapter 2.7 (276), p.357.

[2]Josephus, Wars., Book 4, Chapter 6.3 (388), pp. 825-826.

[3]Josephus, Wars., Book 4, Chapter 3.10 (162-163), pp. 813-814.

[4]Josephus, Wars., Book 4, Chapter 5.2 (318), p. 822.

[5]William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), pp.468-69; Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1983), pp. 197-98.

[6]Josephus, Wars., Book 6, Chapter 6.1 (316), p. 900.

[7]DeMar, Last., p. 96. See also Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah. 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 3:520. 

[1]Hal Lindsey, ‘World’s fate hangs on 35 acres’ 21 February 2001.

[2]Yisrael Meida, cited in Grace Halsell, Forcing God’s Hand (Washington, Crossroads International, 1999), p. 68.

[3]Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth  (London, Lakeland, 1970), pp. 56-58.

[4]Rich Robinson, ‘Israeli Groups Involved in Third Temple Activities’ Jews for Jesus Newsletter Issue 10, Adar 5753, 1993.

[5]Nadav Shragai, ‘Dreaming of a Third Temple’, Ha’aretz, 17 September 1998, p.3. Cited in Randall Price, The Coming Last Days Temple (Eugene, Oregon, Harvest House, 1999), p. 417.

[6]Sam Kiley, ‘The righteous will survive and the rest will perish’ The Times, 13 December 1999, p. 39.

[7]Louis Rapoport, ‘Slouching towards Armageddon: Links with Evangelicals’ Jerusalem Post International Edition, June 17-24, 1984; Grace Halsell, Forcing God’s Hand (Washington, Crossroads International, 1999), pp.63-73.

[8]Jay Gary, ‘The Temple Time Bomb’ Presence Magazine

[9]C.I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (New York, Oxford University Press, 1945),    p. 890.

[10]The New Scofield Reference Bible ed. E. Schuyler English (New York, Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 864.

[11]Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Edinburgh, Banner of Truth, 2000), p. 285

[12]Leviticus 2:2, 9, 16.

[13]1 Peter 2:5.

[14]1 Peter 2:7.

[15]John 1:14; 2:19-22; Colossians 2:9.

[16]John 1:14.