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Destroy This Temple
Next Sunday is the 25th anniversary of our church and at this service the ordination ceremony will be held as well. For this occasion Pastor Ki-sung Lee from Sam Sung Church in Vancouver will be with us and lead us in the sermon. But, during this week’s preparation, I thought today’s scripture would be fitting for our anniversary service. But, as I will not be giving the sermon next week, I will be a bit early asking us to think about the meaning of our church’s anniversary together.
The title of today’s sermon is “Destroy This Temple”; however, more accurate title would be “Destroy Victoria Korean Church”. But, I thought that this would be too shocking and so stuck with the phrase from the Bible as is.
But, please think about this. If I told you to destroy this church so close to its 25th anniversary, it might be taken as disrespect towards our friends in the church and in faith who have walked with this church for its 25 years in history. Maybe I would even be kicked out before being delegated to this church.
The statement, however, being said in today’s scripture is even more severe than what I have asked you to imagine because the church in these verses were being built for 46 years and had 30 more years to be completed. Jesus, nonetheless, says “destroy this temple”. The shock that the Jews must have felt would have been a much bigger one compared to our imagined one. 6) In fact, this is one of the catalysts that lead to Christ’s crucifixion. For the Jewish people the temple was a holy place and it would have been very difficult for them to accept what Christ was saying. So, when I said ‘destroy VKC’ it’s nothing compared to what Jesus had originally said. After all, we do not have a building to destroy anyways.
What we must take away from today’s scripture is asking why did Jesus say what He said? Did He really want the temple to be destroyed? Or was there another meaning behind it?
Often the “temple” in this verse is interpreted as a physical temple, or the function of the temple. Already the phrase sounds much easier to swallow. In this sense, Jesus is saying ‘do not focus on building a physical temple’. And it can also be asking us to look back on the real purposes of a temple and to fix the brokenness of these functions.
I also wanted to interpret it this way. So, I looked at the scripture a bit more thoroughly. But, contrary to my thoughts, the word ‘temple’ in verse 19 is ναόσ, which is different from the word ἱερογ which is usually used to emphasize the exterior/physical side of a church.
This word in verse 19 also carries the meaning of a physical building of a church, but it is also used to describe Jesus Christ and the place where the Holy Spirit resides. For example, in Revelations 21:22 it says, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Moreover, in I Corinthians 3:16 it says, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” In both these verses the word ναόσ was originally used in place of the word ‘temple’.
In other words, the temple Jesus told us to destroy wasn’t the physical building of a church as we expected. It wasn’t even to point out our mistake of focusing heavily on building a church. And it wasn’t even to just tell us to fix our broken church. What Jesus said included Jesus Christ himself as a church and our hearts where the Holy Spirit resides. He is telling us that all of these temples must be destroyed.
If we compare the synoptic gospels to John’s gospel, we can tell that they are completely different. For example, in Mathew 21:12-13 it says, “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. (12) "It is written," he said to them, " 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'" In Mathew, Jesus doesn’t say that the church itself has problems, but the people who are serving it do. That is why he drives those people out.
It is the same in Luke 19:45, “Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling.” Then in Mark 11:15, “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” Mathew, Mark, and Luke all talk about the problems of the people who serve the church and their ill-actions. So, we can say when Jesus drove these people out it was to cleanse the church.
But, when we look at John chapter 15, it says, “So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”
This verse points out that it wasn’t just people he kicked out, but the things that were being sacrificed such as the sheep and the cattle, were also all driven out. What did those animals do wrong that they deserved such whipping? But, Jesus still drove all of them out sternly because he was denying the temple itself.
In other words, according to John’s gospel, Jesus’ problem wasn’t just with the people who were selling things at the church, but He was denying the church and its ceremonies and sacrifices. This is why he said “destroy this temple.”
In this respect, a problem then seems to arise, because Jesus’s words would negate the importance of a temple. However, in order to truly understand what Jesus meant, we need to also consider the rest of his words: “I will raise it again in three days.”
The reason Jesus told them to destroy the temple was not because it was insignificant. And it was certainly not because the temple was worn out and needed to be rebuilt. In order to understand the nature and essence of a temple, both ‘tearing down’ and ‘raising back up’ need to be considered. Jesus spoke these words to make us realize this. So let us approach the concept of temples ontologically.
The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:20-22)
In the Bible, the Jews thought Jesus was talking about the temple of Herod. But Jesus was actually referring to his body. He was saying that he would be raised from the dead. That is why he told them to destroy the temple, as he will raise it again.
Just as the Passion of the Christ is equally important to us as the Resurrection, destroying the temple is equally important as raising it. Thus, the essence of a temple includes the meaning of destroying it as well as the meaning of raising it.
So let us think about what it means to destroy the temple.
It would probably be best if we first learn about the history of temples. The first temple was built by Solomon and it was called the Temple of Solomon. When the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon, the temple was destroyed in fire by the Nebuchadnezzar. Later, the second temple was built on the ruins of Solomon’s temple. This temple was called the Temple of Zerubbabel. And during Jesus’s time, the building was reconstructed under Herod and was called Herod’s Temple.
In 1 Chronicles 17:1: “After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.”” David had wanted to build a temple, but he was not able to fulfill his goal. So while the temple was actually built by Solomon, it can be said that the idea of building a temple was initiated by David.
In 1 Chronicles, David takes a census of Israel and his army in order to impose taxes for conscription. He thought that this would bring more power to the nation of Israel. However, in the sight of God, what David did was a sin. David was relying on his own strength instead of trusting God to protect the people in time of war. His reliance on the military force was seen by God as idolatry. And so 1 Chronicles 21:7 says, “This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”
God gives David him three options of punishment: 1. Three years of famine 2. Three months of fleeing from an invader 3. Three days of plague
David chooses the third option (three days of plague), and so an angel was sent to spread the plague through the land. Although this choice was the shortest in duration, “seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead” from the pestilence.
In 1 Chronicles 21:15, “And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” Perhaps Israel would have forever disappeared in history had not God said this.
Anyway, when David later repents, God tells David what to do. This is in 1 Chronicles 21:18: “Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah and Jebusite.” The place where David builds an altar to the Lord is where the Temple of Solomon would later be built.
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David. (2 Chronicles 3:1) The Bible says that the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite was on Mount Moriah. This was the place where Abraham tried to offer his son Isaac to the Lord. David had sinned and was forgiven by God at the same place as Abraham had offered his son to the Lord and received Isaac back. This is not simply a coincidence. In fact, this would show the intrinsic nature of temples. (30) A temple had been built where Isaac’s life and death was crossed from Abraham’s offering to the Lord and where the Israel people’s lives and deaths were also crossed due to David’s sin.
Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” and referred to His body as the temple. Similarly, the temple was where the death of Christ and His Resurrection would meet.
Thus, a temple has two essential forms.
One is that of being torn down, and the other, of being raised again.
Here, ‘torn down’ means ‘broken down’, ‘destroyed’. But the most
essential meaning is being ‘loosened’, ‘released’. And ‘to be raised again’ means ‘to be awakened from sleep’, ‘to
open your eyes’. It also can mean ‘to come
back from the dead’. In fact Corinthians 15:3 reads “If there is no
resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.’ We can
see here that it uses the same term.
In the end, Jesus’ words that the temple should be torn down may
be because the temple can no longer serve
its function. In other words, it is one problem to turn God’s house
into a marketplace, but it was even more fundamentally wrong that no
one at the temple tried to release oneself.
In that temple, there was no one like Abraham, who put a sword
towards his son Isaac at Mount Moriah.
There was also no one like David, who stood
on the threshing floor of Araunah to sacrifice his tears as he watched
people dying of infectious diseases due to their sins. Thus, for
the temple to serve as a temple again, it had to be torn down. As a
result, Jesus first turned himself into a torn down temple.
Fellow church members, in this sense, our church must be torn
down. Just like how Jesus tore down his own
body, was destroyed on the Cross, and was resurrected, we must also
dismantle, destroy, tear down ourselves because we cannot be reborn
without first having died. Thus, to receive forgiveness for the sins of
man, there must be a new temple erected on the place of grace that Jesus
Although our church was founded 25 years ago, I hope that we will listen to God’s words. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it.”
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