“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.
Forms of Special Revelation:
We have been speaking of and citing some of the weaknesses of General Revelation and our need for something more. Yet, let us point out that General Revelation was never designed to teach us our obligation towards God and our proper relationship to him as our creator. Indeed, it was never designed to even guide us in morality even if the fall were not to have taken place. How do we know this? It is because God engaged in Special Revelation prior to the fall of mankind. God gave Adam the law in the garden and regularly communicated with him in terms of instructing him in his role as regent over the creation. We are also told that God was prone to walk through the garden (by implication, to speak with Adam and Eve). Thus, communication beyond what could be learned from nature was part of God’s pre-fall relationship with his creatures. Now, one could argue that all revelation from God is Special Revelation. Was not God the author of the genetic code by which organic creatures function? Was God not the author of the laws of science by which the physical bodies of the universe operate? Certainly the limitation of understanding science lies within us, not within God’s revelation of it in creation. And certainly, in our fallen state, we sometimes mis-interpret the Special Revelation that is given to us. Thus, the important thing to note is that the purpose of General and Special Revelation is different. General reveals broadly and to all; Special reveals narrowly (dealing especially with God and our relationship with and obligation towards him) and only to whom it is delivered. How many people have read the scriptures only to come away with heretical teachings? Thus, not only is it delivered to few, its proper interpretation requires insight from the Holy Spirit, who effectively guides Special Revelation’s delivery.
We can categorize Special Revelation in the following way:
- Manifestations of God: God manifests himself to his people to guide them, encourage them, and teach them. And, God has done this in a variety of ways.
- Theophanies: Where God physically presents himself to the prophet while the prophet is awake and aware of such taking place. For example, God descended upon Mount Sinai when the law was given, He appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and He spoke to Elijah on Mount Sinai to mention just a few.
- Visions: This is where God manifests himself in a vision (not physically) to a prophet who is awake and aware of what is taking place. God came to Abram in a vision, to Samuel, and to the prophet Isaiah again to name just a few.
- Dreams: This is where God manifests himself visually (not physically) to a prophet who is asleep. God communicated this way to Jacob, to Joseph the son of Jacob, and to Joseph, the earthly adoptive father of Jesus again to name just a few.
- In his Son: Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God given not just to the prophets, but to all people. He is also the perfect image of the invisible God and the object of all Special Revelation. All of scripture, not just the Gospels, points to Jesus.
- Prophesy: God also speaks to and through his prophets. The role of the prophet, as we have already discussed, is to faithfully be the mouth of God to his people. The role of prophesy is two-fold: it is to foretell and to forthtell. While some prophesy does speak of things that will take place in the future (foretell), the bulk of prophesy is to speak forth God’s word to the people of God, for rebuke and encouragement (forthtell). With this before us, God speaks prophetically in a variety of ways.
- Direct Verbal Prophesy: God speaks directly to his prophets and then the prophets relate it either orally or in writing to God’s people. This is the “thus says the Lord” clause in scripture.
- Indirect Prophesy: God also spoke to his people through indirect means. God gave the High Priest the Urim and Thummim, by drawing lots, and signs.
- Typology: As God is the God of history, it is not surprising that God would order events in similar ways as a means of demonstrating his hand at work. Typology is the study of these repetitions through persons, events, or institutions that are repeated with intensification in the events that follow—usually pointing toward Christ. For example, the institution of the priesthood, particularly that of the High Priest was designed to prefigure Christ’s priesthood. Moses, as a mediator for his people, prefigures Christ’s mediatorial work. There are many more such events that God has arranged in such a way as that they point to what is to come.
- Miracles: While miracles are not sufficient in and of themselves to generate faith, but they are given to confirm and strengthen the faith that is already present. They were given as signs that the prophets were genuine and given as signs that Jesus really is the Son of God.
In a sense, scripture is the ultimate Special Revelation of God as it is the record of the forms of Special Revelation we have already spoken of that is preserved in writing for God’s people through history. Scripture is the ultimate manifestation of God’s special Revelation to his people, revealing Christ and uniting in Christ all of these separate forms of Special Revelation. Thus, with the close of scripture, the necessity of such authoritative revelation from God has ceased. Scripture reveals Christ in his fullness for God’s people and thus, the completed canon of scripture is given to us as the capstone upon which our faith is held together. It is, according to the Apostle Peter when comparing the scriptures to his own experience of walking with Christ and witnessing (as well as performing) miracles, something that is “more sure.” Thus, we have General Revelation and Special Revelation, and all of the many forms of Special Revelation find their climax in the Scriptures—the written word of God.
This is a view that is hotly debated by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements in the church, and this is not the place to go into an extensive discussion of the relevant issues. In short, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements would look to what they refer to as gifts of the Holy Spirit (Prophesy and Tongues) from the New Testament as normative for the church in all ages. In response, the question must be asked, “Is the canon of scripture closed?” Certainly that is the Bible’s own testimony about itself, as we have discussed. If there is continuing authoritative prophesy, for example, thus God speaking verbatim (thus says the Lord) through an agent to his people, are you not adding to scripture? There are many good books which argue on both sides of the debate, but the most important aspect of this discussion is what scripture says of itself. Scripture’s testimony, as we have discussed, is that it is complete and sufficient for matters of faith and matters of life. If it is complete and sufficient, why is there need for further supernatural revelation to be given?