John's Gospel

The Way It Happened

John 2:18-20, John’s Greatest Theological Contribution

Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?

//John’s Gospel reads a little different than the others here. In Mark 14:58 Jesus promises:

I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

Jesus is thus condemned by the Jewish leaders for threatening to destroy the temple, a magnificent construction begun by Herod the Great. John, however, turns this around. In his version, Jesus no longer says “I will destroy the temple” but instead tempts the Jews with a command: “Destroy this temple.”

Why? Because John has a unique understanding to share. E. P. Sanders argued that Jesus actually prophesied the destruction of the temple (which did, indeed, happen, though it took another 40 years to occur) and expected God to send a new one. This new temple would be God-given, much like the God-given city promised in the book of Revelation. There, the city would float down from heaven and settle atop Mount Zion. No human hands would join in the construction, for God himself would do the constructing.

John, writing his gospel 25 years or so after the temple was destroyed, may have finally concluded that no new temple was on the horizon. Certainly it didn’t come within the three-day deadline. Yet, that concept of a “temple made without hands” was surely tantalizing. Another of Revelation’s promises, you may recall, is that there would be no temple in the new City of God; Jesus himself would be the temple.

So now we come to John’s fascinating insight, turning failure into success, for the new temple was constructed as promised after all! Jesus was never talking about Herod’s temple in the first place! That’s why he could dare the Jews to “destroy this temple.” The next verse reads:

John 2:21, But he spake of the temple of his body.

Jesus wasn’t talking about a new temple at all, when he said he would rebuild one in three days. He was talking about his own resurrection!

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