Jesus and the Temple

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  • February 20, 2010

For me, my favorite part of the trip to Israel was being at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. The Western Wall is the holiest place of the Jewish faith. Daily, faithful Jews come and pray by the Wall. Many rejoice over God’s blessings there. Others weep over Jerusalem, longing for God to restore to them the land in peace. The Western Wall is a remnant of the retaining wall that Herod the Great had built around the Temple. Today, the Temple is gone. In fact, where the Holy of Holies once stood, now stands the Dome of the Rock, the great Muslim mosque.

I stood there, my hand to the Wall, and as I began to pray, God brought to memory the story of the Temple. My mind thought back to God redeeming His people Israel, delivering them from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus, this Holy God declares that He will live among His people. He will not consume them as He ought for their sin, but will graciously dwell among them. And so the Tabernacle is built. The God whom the Heavens cannot hold will dwell in a tent made by human hands! But the Tabernacle is just a shadow pointing to the Temple. As the story continues, David becomes King and desires to build God a house. And yet, God says that David will not build God’s house, but that God will build his. And so God makes a covenant with David and promises that from his line would come an eternal King and an eternal Kingdom. Not David, but David’s son Solomon will fulfill his father’s dream and build God’s house.

And just beyond where my hand touched the Wall, Solomon built the Temple, God’s house. Solomon dedicates the Temple to the Lord, and after his prayer, fire falls from heaven and the glory of the Lord fills the house so that not even the priests can enter. Just beyond where I stood, the glory of God had touched down and kissed this spot of earth.

But that’s not all. For though this Temple would be destroyed by the Babylonians, it would be rebuilt by Herod the Great. So that it was here, that Jesus came. Just beyond where my hand touched the Wall, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus as a baby, and  it was here, at His Father’s House, that Jesus stayed behind as a twelve year old boy.

And as I looked around while praying, I couldn’t help but notice how deeply Jewish men and women venerated this place. It meant everything to them. It was the locus of their identity and of their faith. And the Scripture that came to memory was where Jesus said,

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore 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.

In 2010, if someone even threatened to destroy the Western Wall, you’d be at the brink of war. And the Western Wall is not even a part of the temple, it’s just a retaining wall that surrounded the Temple Mount. So then you get how deeply offended Jesus’ hearers were when they heard His words. So much so, that this threat is brought up as an accusation against Him at His trial (Mt 26:61). What Jesus said made them mad enough to kill Him. In fact, it even became the material by which they would mock Him in His death. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (Mt. 27:40-41)

But of course, Jesus wasn’t speaking of destroying the Temple. He was speaking of the destruction of His body. For Jesus had replaced the Temple. The Tabernacle was a shadow pointing to the Temple and the Temple was a shadow pointing to Jesus!

As I stood there, I thanked Jesus that He was greater than this Wall and that He was the fulfillment of the Temple. The locus of worship is no longer in Jerusalem, but in Jesus. We do not meet God at the Temple, we meet God in Jesus. Sacrifices are not offered to God at the Temple, for Jesus became the sacrifice offered to God. We do not look towards Jerusalem, we look towards Jesus. And the Gospel has gone to the four corners of the earth so that it is not those who come to the Wall, but all who come to Jesus who meet God!

Consider this:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:21-26)

Jesus is the true and better Temple! Add to all that the thought that now the Spirit of God dwells in all who believe so that now we are the temple of God!  (1 Cor. 3:16) There’s much to meditate on but I’ll leave you with this. Listen to where the story of the Temple is going.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. (Rev. 21:1-4, 22)

So it was standing there where the Temple stood that I was wonderfully reminded that this is not my temple, Jesus is.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road.

One Comment

  • Dale says:

    I really enjoyed reading over this. I am planning to have my class read over it as we talk through the tabernacle.

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