The Greater Temple on the Cross

“And those passing by blasphemed him, shaking their heads, saying, ‘He is the one who would destroy the Temple and in three days rebuild it — You save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross also!’”

(Matthew 27:39-40)

“And those passing by blasphemed him, shaking their heads, saying, ‘Ha! He is the one who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. You save yourself by coming down from the cross!’”

(Mark 15:29-30)

This sounds much like the language of Luke 23:35-37, but it seems that this is an ongoing taunt from the people. “Let him save himself.” Matthew and Mark both are very clear as to the fact that these people are intentionally blaspheming Christ as they mock him. The difference perhaps between this group and the group that Luke is referring to is that here we have recorded the words of people passing by, while Luke is referring to those who are standing by, gawking at the spectacle. Here, you can almost picture them shaking their heads as they pass, but not stopping either, going about their business as if this event had no more significance than any of the other crucifixions that the Romans had performed.

At the heart of the comments here is Jesus’ remark about tearing down the Temple and rebuilding it in three days (John 2:18-22), a reference, of course, to his body. Yet, to really understand this reference, one needs to go back a little further into the Old Testament prophets. After the Temple of Solomon was destroyed the people went into exile. We read in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah of the people’s return to the land and of the rebuilding of the Temple and of the city walls. During a slump in the rebuilding project, God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to prod and encourage the people. As part of his prophesy, Malachi promises the people that the latter glory of the new Temple will be greater than the glory of the former Temple.

Now, here is where the people of the day (and some even today!) misunderstand the language of the glory of the Temple. All too often, they attribute this glory to the physical structure…hence the people took great pride in the years it took to build on the second Temple in Herod’s time (John 2:20) and the disciples even marveled at the size of the stones (Mark 13:1). Yet, where is the glory of this house? Surely it is not in the stones and workmanship, but its glory comes from the presence of God dwelling in the house. Thus, after the Tabernacle was completed, the Glory of the Lord entered into it (Exodus 40:34) and similarly, after Solomon finished the Temple, the Glory of the Lord entered into it (2 Chronicles 7:1).

Yet, prior to the fall of the Temple, the prophet Ezekiel receives a vision of the Glory of the Lord exiting from the Temple and from Jerusalem (Ezekiel 10:4;11:23). And though Ezekiel also receives a vision of the Glory of the Lord entering a new Temple (Ezekiel 43:4), this language speaks of an eternal kingdom, not the restoration of Jerusalem during Ezra and Nehemiah’s day. Why does the Glory of the Lord not re-enter the physically rebuilt temple? Because Ezra’s Temple and Herod’s Temple expansion are not the new Temple of which Haggai was speaking…Haggai was speaking of Christ, the greater Temple. And thus, the language of tearing down and rebuilding the Temple, properly belongs to Christ, the greatest Temple and could never apply to another. Further, an understanding of that principle today will preserve us from falling into the trap of thinking we will be building a new Temple in Jerusalem one future day. Christ the greater Temple has come, so what is this house that we would build for God?

Yet, they did not understand what Jesus was talking about — and how often it is also true that professing Christians as well neither understand nor care to understand what it is that Jesus was talking about. They just make things up as they go and pronounce it to be “Christian,” but without grounding the ideas in a consistent reading of the Scriptures. Were we living in a Biblically literate world, such practices would never be tolerated or followed. But “Biblical Literacy” is something that only rarely inhabits our homes and even our churches in these last days. Judge a tree by its fruit, loved ones, and be warned of the dangers that surround us in the west these days.

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