“They said, ‘This man said, ‘I have the power to demolish the Temple of God and to rebuild in three days.’’”
“And certain ones arose and they bore false witness about him, saying, ‘We heard him say, ‘I will demolish this temple that was made with human hands and in three days, I will build another that is not made with human hands.’’ But their witness was not in agreement, even in this.”
So, even when false witnesses agree on the big lie, they still can’t get the details in order — such, of course is a standard principle in police investigation when trying to uncover who is lying about what happened — but can you imagine the level of frustration that these Jewish leaders must have been feeling at this point? With every botched false witness their blood-pressure probably rose a few notches and now, when they finally locate people who will testify about the same lie — there are holes between those stories as well. So much for making a staged trial look anything but staged … serves them right!
In terms of the confusion of these lying witnesses, what we find is a classic case of confusing the context — or of combining similar statements of Jesus into one that means something entirely different than what was originally meant in each of the two contexts respectively.
All four Gospels refer to Jesus’ discussion of tearing down the Temple, but John records an entirely different account than do Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In John’s Gospel, we find Jesus cleansing the temple early in his ministry and the Jewish authorities don’t get angry with him for his action, but simply ask for a sign that would show them on whose authority that Jesus cast out the money-changers and sellers. Jesus’ response to their request for a sign is to say: “Demolish this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). What follows is John explaining that Jesus was talking about the temple of his body — hence the sign of Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple would be found when he dies and raises again from the dead. It has nothing to do with the physical temple in Jerusalem, though the Jewish authorities do go away somewhat confused, muttering that it took them 46 years to build the temple. The parables that Jesus tells consistently leave the spiritually blind — blind (Matthew 13:10-17).
The Synoptic Gospels, though, record a different account. In Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, and Luke 19:43-44, Jesus is prophesying the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD by the Romans. This passage is part of what is sometimes referred to as the “Olivet Discourse,” a passage that prophetically looks forward not only to the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, but also to the end of times. In these passages, Jesus speaks nothing of a rebuilding — either physical or otherwise, nor does he mention anything about three days.
The interesting thing is that the two accounts do connect theologically, but not in the way that the Jewish authorities are understanding. Indeed, God will send the Roman armies to destroy the physical temple in Jerusalem. This temple was built by those that King Cyrus sent back to Jerusalem to rebuild and restore their cultural home and then it was added to by King Herod the Great in an attempt to win favor with the people. Yet, this is not the “Greater” temple that is prophesied by the prophet Haggai (Haggai 2:9). The Greater Temple is Christ himself, as alluded to by John in the prologue to his Gospel (John 1:14). Thus the temple that the Romans destroyed was meant as a foreshadowing of Christ.
The Temple that the Romans would destroy (not leaving one stone upon another, as Jesus prophesied) was also a place where sacrifices took place. Again, these sacrifices anticipated the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ — their only significant meaning, again, being found in the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross. Thus, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the need for bloody sacrifices was brought to a close (Hebrews 10:10) and thus the temple no longer served any sacrificial purpose. The Jews, in rejecting Christ, would continue to worship at the shadow instead of worshiping the glorious Son, and thus God, in judgment, sent the Romans to wipe the temple flat to prevent any more sacrifices from being made (His Son is enough!). And, lest later Jews or confused Christians seek to reestablish a sacrificial system on the temple mount, God sent the Muslim Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan to build the Haram ash Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) on the old Temple mount, the well-known “Dome of the Rock” being its central point. The rebuilding of the Jewish temple would first require the demolition of this Muslim holy site, something that is unlikely to take place. Once again, this is God’s design to prevent the Jews or misguided Christians from rebuilding the “shadow” that Christ fulfilled.
Indeed, the two accounts are connected, but certainly not in the way these false witnesses are connecting them…nor perhaps in the way that some Christians connect them today. Nevertheless, this false trial will move forward, witnesses or no, for the end had already been determined not only by the Jewish authorities, but by the almighty plan of God himself.