Jesus is in a very bad situation. Frankly, it’s a situation he got himself into. You could say it is his fault. Jesus at fault? Did he do something wrong? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be perfect? What’s going on?
As we’ve been studying this week on the blog, in John 2:12-25, we read the story of how Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem, went over to the marketplace the religious leaders allowed to operate in the Court of the Gentiles, and Jesus threw the market into chaos. What he did was wrong in the eyes of the religious leaders who gave permission for the market to be there. But in the eyes of God, Jesus says, what he did was right, cleansing the temple, bringing it back to the place of worship it was supposed to be. As you can imagine, the religious leaders seem only to see the situation as Jesus undermining their authority. So they confront him with what seems like an impossible challenge: “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
How will Jesus answer? Look at verse 19.
He answers with a typical Jesus answer. It’s mysterious, it’s cryptic. “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” Remember that show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? In each episode, they would tear down a house and rebuild it fast. I don’t think they ever did it in three days, though, even with a huge team of workers. But Jesus is not talking about a single-family home. He is talking about a temple made of stone, on a 37-acre complex. It took decades to build, and it still wasn’t done.
What Jesus was offering, then, would have been an obvious miraculous sign. But notices how he turns it around on on them. If they, the religious leaders, tear down the temple, he’ll perform the miracle of rebuilding the temple in 3 days.
Jesus’ answer got me thinking. Is he indulging them? Is he giving in to their request for him to perform for them, to jump through hoops for them? In another words, is he caving to their authority?
No. He knows they’re not going to destroy them temple. He knows they don’t believe he could do the miracle. And what’s more, though he uses the word “temple,” he isn’t talking about a building made of stone and wood. Except the religious leaders don’t know that when they respond to him, which we read in verse 20.
They think Jesus is being literal, talking about the temple building, and they are probably rolling their eyes at him, thinking he is a fraud. But Jesus isn’t just being literal; he is, in one of his genius moves, speaking with a double-meaning. He is not only answering their challenge about a miraculous sign by turning the situation around on them, Jesus is also being figurative. How is he being figurative? John tells us in verse 21.
The temple he was referring to is his body. This is such a curious statement. It is likely no one knew what he meant. Think about this scene. All around them is the carnage of the stampede and overturned tables. Trash and debris are strewn about. It’s probably a huge mess. People are gawking, and the Jewish leaders are red hot angry at what has happened in this outer temple court. They confront the man at the center of it all. Everyone knows this man is in big trouble. He will probably be imprisoned for this act of insurrection. He may lose his life. What can he possibly say to get of the mess?
“Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.”?
What? This answer, this challenge from Jesus, seems to them to be so beyond the realm of possibility, that many there likely thought he was insane, a mad man.
But John tells us his disciples would remember this day. In the next post, we’ll find out how and why.