The New Temple

Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove out those who have turned His “Father’s house” into a “market-place” and a “den of robbers”, along with their merchandise, spilling the coins of the money-changers and overturning their tables (Jn 2:14-17; Mt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-17; Lk 19:45-46). He cleansed the temple of Jerusalem out of “zeal”, fulfilling the words of the Scripture: “Zeal for Your house will consume me“ (Ps 69:9).

This episode has always been scandalous for many. For this reason, its historicity was often questioned. It is still debated if Jesus actually acted out of anger, and whether He did or did not use violence. But I fear that, while debating on this particular dilemma, we may be missing a more important and relevant one. It is more confusing that the “Son of Man”, Who has “nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58), claims a house for His Father, as if the Creator of the whole universe needs a temple to dwell in. Why did the Jews have a temple in the first place? Why did God allow its construction? Does He need a dwelling place? And why did He allow its destruction later? Why would Jesus, who cleansed it out of “zeal”, proclaim that each of its stones will be thrown down (Mt 24:2; Mk 13:2; Lk 21:5)?

Alexander Smirnov (Russian, 1947–). Oil on canvas.

The story of the “Father’s house” began with the Tabernacle, a portable tent ordained by God Himself, and built according to the instructions He gave to Moses (Nb 4:1-35). Named also a “tent of Presence”, the earthly dwelling place of God contained the “Ark of the Covenant”, or “Ark of Testimony”, that carried the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna (Heb 9:4). It was carrying signs of God’s presence, and symbols of the great things He did for them. Thus, the tent ordered by God wasn’t meant for Him, but for His chosen people, as a sign of His presence among them throughout their history.

Several hundred years after the conquest of the promised land, the monarchy was established, and Jerusalem became the capital city of Israel. After he moved into his newly built palace, king David was concerned because he was “living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent” (1 Chr 17:1). He decided then to build a temple for God. He was not to see his dream come true, because he “shed much blood and waged great wars” (1 Chr 22:8). Instead of him, his son Solomon did the work and accomplished the temple by 957 BCE. Throughout the ages, the temple was pillaged, destructed, then rebuilt, and stood as the sign of God’s presence until the time of Jesus. Neither the tent of ancient times nor the temple built in the days of prosperity was meant for God, but they were signs for the people, as a reminder of God’s presence, fidelity, and love.

Nearly a thousand years later, Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple. He absolutely foresaw its final destruction in 70 EC. But more importantly, He was implying that the temple had become useless. As a matter of fact, a sign becomes useless when the truth behind it is revealed, for a sign is partial and imperfect, and “when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end” (1 Co 13:10). Hence, when Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us, He became the real presence of God among us, and what stood as His sign had become useless.

When Christ died on the Cross, all of His signs “died” with Him. The temple was destroyed along with His body, its curtains were torn in two from top to bottom (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45), and by His Resurrection, He became the new and definitive temple (Cf. Rev 21:22), the true and unique presence of God among His people. After His Resurrection, the Disciples understood that He meant His body when He said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19), and they understood that the old temple would be forever gone, replaced by the resurrected body of Christ, the eternal presence of God among us.

“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Jn 2:19

Back to the episode of cleansing, what Jesus did that day in the temple, was more of a prophetic demonstration. Therefore, whether He was violent or no seems irrelevant. He was actually expelling the thieves, those who would “sell” God for their own interest, before He, the Son of God, was sold to His executioners. He was driving out the oxen and sheep with a whip of cords before He, the Lamb of God, was fiercely flagellated and driven out of the city to the Golgotha. He was purifying the temple nearly a week before the women came to His tomb to anoint His body. In every word and act, Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple along with His body and announced His resurrection as the rising of the new and final Temple.

Forasmuch as the world was created through Christ, also in Christ the New Temple, the whole world has become the “House of God”. He does not dwell in any particular place anymore, since the whole of creation has become His dwelling place. We understand now the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar: “believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (Jn 4:21).

By Christ’s death and Resurrection, as part of the created world, each one of us has become a living part of the “Father’s house”, and one of its privileged residents, as the beloved sons of the Owner.

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