A trademark of life on earth is worship. Just think for a moment. All through history and all over the globe, places of worship are central to the culture and history of every nation on the face of the earth. Since ancient times, elaborate buildings and even natural wonders have been dedicated to gods and higher beings as appeasement and admiration.
The desert people with their fold-up version of a place of worship, was no different. Freed from the sun-worshipping Egyptians, who built magnificent architectural wonders in awe of their gods, they ventured into the desert with nothing to anchor their renewed faith in the miracle-working YHWH (Yaveh), the God of their faith-ancestry, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Not too far into their desert wanderings, we find the meticulous and awe-inspiring prescription of the Tabernacle, based on the detailed instructions of Moses whose ear was inclined to hear God’s voice. Under Holy Spirit-inspired craftsmen, the Ark of the Covenant is built, to symbolize the Presence of the Most High God, with thick embroidered woven linen to separate it from the section where the Table of Showbreads, the Lampstand and the golden bowl with incense symbolize the Word of God, illuminated by the Light of the World, Jesus, and the worship that prepares for His presence, are located. In the forecourt was the altar of burnt offering where innocent blood cleansed from sin and the bronze laver with water symbolized baptism. This ancient pattern of worship is the foundation of our regular religious reunion with God.
I am always encouraged by the scripture, describing the gifting of art and crafts for men and women that came from God.
…and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, 32 to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.
34 “And He has put in his heart the ability to teach, in him and Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work of the engraver and the designer and the tapestry maker, in blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and of the weaver—those who do every work and those who design artistic works. (Exodus 35: 31- 35)
Settled in the Promised Land, a few centuries later, it is David’s desire to build a Temple for the God He loves and pours out his worship to. His son Solomon, builds a magnificent Temple to mark the high point of Hebrew culture in the ancient world and earn the respect of neighbouring nations for almost four centuries. After Solomon’s death the kingdom divides and slowly falls away from true worship until the hostility of other ancient Empires (Assyria and Babylon) brings destruction and exile.
After the exile, the reconstruction of the Temple dominates the lives of Ezrah and Nehemiah who re-establish worship in the physically restored Temple, carefully recorded with the many miracles accompanying their daunting task.
Under Roman rule, the Jewish king Herod the Great, works for decades to restore the Temple to its former glory. He is well known for his grand architectural projects throughout the Judea of that time. It is the centre and pride of the city of Jerusalem, built to the pattern of the original desert Tabernacle and the Temple of Solomon, with a few modern additions like the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women that were never included in the original plan.
The Temple was the pride and joy of the Pharisees, priests and people at the time of Jesus. It was the centre of Jewish culture and everyday life. Jews lived and worked in their culture of worship. There was just no alternative. If you were born a Jew daily prayer, sacrifices, the Sabbath and celebrating the feasts, marked your life, diary and pleasure. Nothing else was important. Worship of YWHW was above all else in life and the world.
Acts like Jesus cleansing the Court of the Gentiles where the money was collected, would produce immediate reaction from the leadership. Their reaction is discussed in John 2:17-25.
Jesus’ disciples remembered the words of Psalms 69:9. The Psalm is talking of the Messiah. He would be consumed with zeal for the House of God. Zeal means passion or even jealousy. In the minds of the disciples Jesus was being established. His actions befitted the Messiah.
The reaction of the Jews is understandable. They needed to establish Jesus’ credentials through some sign. They knew the Messiah would be established by wonders and signs. Jesus needed to prove His claim. He had to do something supernatural.
Jesus’ reply presented them with a problem. This is John’s interpretation written long after all the events. He is writing seventy years of perspective into the narrative.
The words of Jesus were later used against him as accusation in His trial (Matthew 26:61). The accusers said they heard him say:
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Jesus never said He would destroy the Temple building and rebuild it. Jesus knew the end of the Temple was near. He said to the Samaritan woman that people would worship in spirit and truth without a specific place.
Temple worship did not lead men to God. It should have. It became obsolete. He would never have suggested rebuilding the old ways.
God makes things new, always better than before. It is the miraculous principle of restoration. He makes something you never envisaged. Look out for the new thing. (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19)
Jesus wanted to bring a Temple not made by hands. His coming would bring an end to man-made, man-arranged worship and bring Spirit-worship after the ultimate sacrifice had been made. (Mark 14:58)
He came to introduce a new way to worship God without elaborate buildings and animal sacrifice – a new way of coming into the presence of the living God.
In 19BC Herod started work on the Temple to appease the Jews within the Roman political system. In 64AD the building was finally finished. It took 46 years to build. Only six years after that in 70 AD, the Romans army under generalship of Vespasian destroys the Temple so that only the wailing wall stands.
With this background Jesus makes a shocking statement. Did He really mean all the lavish magnificence and splendour would be nothing and completely obsolete? All the money they spent would be irrelevant in God’s plan. Jesus calls men into discussion with his statement. He sets the literal against the figurative, the physical in contrast with the spiritual.
Further more, His statement was a prophecy of the Resurrection. All would then have access to the glorified Jesus. The ever-present God was to be reachable to the ends of the world. The true depth of the statement could only be known after the resurrection.
The scripture that they believed is that they will be saved from death. Death was an absolute mystery and very frightening. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol (Psalms 16:10). Peter quoted it at Pentecost (Acts 2:31) and Paul quoted it at Antioch (Acts 13:35). It expressed the confidence of the church in the power of God and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our approach to God is not dependent on anything man-made or man-built. We worship in our own inner-Temple in the presence of the risen Christ.
Jesus obviously did many miracles in Jerusalem. Many believed in Him, but He did not openly declare Himself.
Jesus knew human nature and how quickly a miracle becomes old news. In journalism they talk about the “one day wonder”. Sensation is only sensational for a very short time.
They would follow signs and wonders, but not many will follow the self-denial and service. Surrendering to the will of God, carrying a cross would separate the superficial from the real.
Jesus was not in it for the popular vote. The mob would have declared Him Messiah. He did not want acceptance until they all knew exactly what acceptance meant.
John calls miracles signs and uses three words:
Teras means a marvelous thing. It has no moral significance; simply an astonishing thing. The New Testament does not use this word alone to describe a miracle.
Dunamis means power. Our word dynamite comes from this word. It denotes extraordinary power, effective power to be recognized by all.
Semeion means sign. This is the word John uses. The deed told men about the man, revealed his character and it was done in order to understand the person doing it better. Miracles told men something of the nature of God. Jesus showed whom God is in healing the sick, comforting the poor, feeding the hungry.
Jesus performed signs of the love of God.
In any miracle there are all three meanings included, revealing the heart of God.