11 March 2012

John 2:13-22

"The Jews then said, 'This temple has been under construction for 46 years, and you will raise it up in three days?' But he was speaking of the temple of his body." (vv. 20-21)


In comparison with the architects and builders of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, which was commenced in 1882 and has an estimated completion date of 2026, a mere 46 years to build a temple may seem speedy! However, the Jews in this story have, as so often in John's narratives, missed the point by speaking about buildings at all. The words and actions of Jesus in this incident may remind us of the prophets of the Old Testament who often DID something obvious and visible in order to TEACH something less clear (eg Ahijah in 1 Kings 11:29-35).

In first century-Jerusalem, only certain coins could be used to pay the temple tax, so moneychangers set up stall in the temple courtyards, along with those who, like refreshment kiosks in West End theatres, took advantage of their captive audiences by selling animals for sacrifice, possibly at inflated prices. So Jesus reacts forcefully, even violently, driving out the animals and overturning the tables of money, declaring that they are inappropriate in "my Father's house" (v. 16). His Jewish critics demand a reason (or "sign" (v. 18)) for his behaviour, in reply to which Jesus makes the enigmatic statement about destroying the temple and he will raise it up in three days. This leads to further confusion, so John adds a note for the benefit of his readers, explaining that Jesus meant his own body, not the temple building. By identifying himself with the temple, Jesus seems to be saying that he, not a building, is the real dwelling place of God, the true revelation of God's presence.

In the week of readings ahead, from Paul's letter to the Romans, we will see more clashes between old and new understandings. Perhaps this story illustrates the belief that, in Jesus, "everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new"" (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

To Ponder

Are there things happening in organised Christian religion today which should make us angry? What are they?

If Jesus is now the real revelation of God's presence, what significance do buildings have for Christians today?

Many Christian denominations have an important sense of history and heritage; how far is this compatible with the idea that "everything has become new"?

Bible notes author

Jill Baker

Jill Baker lives in Glasgow and is glad to be part of the small but distinctive Methodist Church in Scotland. She is a local preacher and local preachers' tutor in the Strathclyde Circuit, where Andrew is superintendent minister.