Lent 3

Me beside a scale model of first century Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple. Jerusalem: February 1998.

John 2:13-22
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ 17His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’18The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’19Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ 20The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

The Jewish people lived in anticipation of a messianic figure who would be a Davidic style monarch, anointed (Hebrew: meshiach; Greek: christos) to preform two principle acts: #1 reestablish the territorial integrity of the covenant people of Israel (translation- kick the Romans out of Israel) #2 ensure the sanctity and integrity of the Temple.

Herod the Great desired to be seen by the people of Israel as their duly anointed king (meshiach). Herod ruled by permission of the Romans. He was a very wily (and ruthless) politician who, amazingly, threaded the needle of allegiance from Julius Caesar through Mark Anthony through Augustus without losing his position. If you can ignore the staggering body count (including many in his own family) one might conclude that Herod was an amazingly successful politician.

Herod couldn’t kick the Romans out but he did help maintain the illusion that Israel was autonomous under his rule. What Herod could do to fit the Jewish conception of a Godly anointed king was attend to the Temple. So he did. The Temple in Jerusalem of Jesus day was the nearly completed, refurbished Temple Herod intended to make a showpiece for the ancient world.

Herod had a platform of stone constructed to accommodate his renovation of the Temple site. The platform was the size of 20 football fields and was constructed of HUGE quarried stones dragged up to the site by hand. One stone (which I saw in a subterranean passage way) measures 44.6 feet long and 9.8 feet high and has an estimated width of 10.8 feet. The weight of this a stone is approximately 570 tons.

Everyone agreed that Herod’s Temple was an architectural wonder of the ancient world. But nobody, except perhaps Herod’s collaborators among the chief priests, were under any impression that Herod was an anointed one of God.

Of course the Temple Herod renovated is gone. It was destroyed by Herod’s buddies the Romans in 70 AD. But by this time Herod too was long gone.

When we consider what Jesus did in the Temple, we need to consider it in light of the messianic expectations of the Old Testament. Jesus symbolically “destroyed” the Temple in order to reorient where Israel was to find the presence of God in their midst. Jesus claimed his own body to be the place where God would be profoundly present in the world. Needless to say, the Temple officials disagreed.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus “cleansing” the Temple is the beginning of the end for him. It’s the last straw and the source of several accusations brought against him at his “trial.”

Not so in John’s gospel. In John’s gospel Jesus driving out the money changers and animals from the Temple is one of the first things he does way back in chapter 2. In John, and only John, Jesus returns to Jerusalem numerous times during his three year ministry. Matthew, Mark and Luke are very clear that Jesus has a one year ministry which comes to an abrupt and deadly end after a week in Jerusalem which began with Jesus’ “Temple tantrum.”

For the rest of John’s gospel Jesus performs other signs which demonstrate the presence of God in him and verifiy his credentials as God’s definitive anointed one (Meshiach).

Talk about two wildly different ways of fulfilling expectations in regards to the Temple. Herod had no love or spiritual attachment for the Temple but he believed that if he could construct something huge and showy he would demonstrate his messianic credentials.

Jesus identifies the true Temple as his own vulnerable and eventually crucified body which he will willingly give up for the sake of the world.

Of course we accept Jesus’ credentials and scoff at Herod but consider our wonder and amazement over the large and showy religious structures and ministries we encounter; Crystal Cathedrals, Megachurches, star-evangelists. We accept the humble, lowliness of Jesus but are innately drawn to the Herodian spectacle.

I guess this is just human nature but also revelatory of how we think about things.

What do you think?


  1. Joy Gerhart

    From my comments last week, I guess 1 Corinthians tied in more with Abraham and Sarah than the 10 commandments.
    Is there a connection with Exodus 20 and John 2 or is the Ten Commandments passage just the next covenant in chronological order? (I find it very coincidental that Exodus 20 is the passage for Wednesday Bible study and Sunday’s lectionary. I wouldn’t dare say inconceivable!
    I’m just surprised there were not immediate repercussions after John’s account of Jesus cleansing the Temple as there were in Matthew, Mark, and Luke .
    Jesus’ body as a metaphor for the Temple was obviously something most didn’t get.

    The scene in this passage is so harsh. Hard to watch in Jesus movies. I have a video of the Gospel of John, which covers the gospel almost word for word, and they cut this passage out! I hate to see tables broken and things thrown to the ground. Maybe I’m the only one.

    I found your comparison of Herod’s connection with the Temple and Jesus’ very interesting, I never thought much about Herod when hearing this passage. 1 Corinthians would connect better if it compared weak with strong and gawdy with humble or simple.

  2. Nancy Centrella

    We have been indoctrinated to believe that bigger is is better!
    Also more is better!
    God took the 613 original laws and “whittled this huge mass….down to a few that anyone could understand and follow”.
    Just imagine if the world could just follow 10 rules.

    I’m going to try and concentrate this coming week on the last paragraph of digging deeper…changing “we are” to “I am”
    I am the church. I am the reflection of God in the world. I am the flicker of life and hope in a world dealing with death. If only I can muster the faith to believe it’s real .
    Wish me luck!

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