By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry Jr
I have been surveying the biblical evidence for the corruption of the Jewish temple and system of worship for several blogs. In this one I will being to show how it can appear as an idol in the Book of Revelation.
The Temple system has become for Israel an idol substituting for a right relationship with God. Formalism has replaced vitalism in worship, externalism has pushed out spirituality. The Lord rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for their empty traditionalism which “invalidated the word of God” (Mt 15:1-6), making them “hypocrites” (15:7), and showing that “this people honors Me with their lips, / But their heart is far away from me, / But in vain do they worship Me, / Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (15:8-9). He chastises Peter for not understanding the hypocrisy involved in Pharisaic hand washing rituals (15:15-20), for “not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man” 15:11).
As J. Galambush observes: “The charge of hypocrisy . . . is Matthew’s leading complaint against the arbiters of righteousness of his day. They lay burdens of ritual observance on others that they themselves refuse to bear, ‘they do all their deeds to be seen by others,’ they tithe the tiniest portion of their produce while avoiding the more substantial issues of justice and mercy. They are ‘whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” Christ’s parables of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32) and the Pharisee and the Publican (Lk 18:9-17) expose the empty self-righteousness of the religious leaders. Even the rich young ruler (arch n) prefers his wealthy status over acceptance by God (Lk 18:18-25)
The Lord warns his followers: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them” (Mt 23:2-3). This dead formalism is brought into the very context of the temple when Christ curses the fig tree for showy leaves while lacking fruit (Mk 11:12-14//). He does this after surveying the temple (Mk 11:11) and just before driving out the moneychangers (Mk 11:15).
In the OT we see the same problem of devotion to the external temple rather than concern for God. There, regarding the first temple’s destruction, Israel prefers to believe false prophecies regarding its inviolability (Jer 5:31; 20:6; 27;15; 29:9, 21; Eze 13:7, 9; 22:28; cp. Rev 16:13). God warned OT Israel: “Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’” (Jer 7:4). He threatened: “therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh” (Jer 7:14). Elsewhere Israel arrogantly declares: “Is not the Lord in our midst? / Calamity will not come upon us” (Mic 3:11). The Lord warns: “What right has My beloved in My house / When she has done many vile deeds? / Can the sacrificial flesh take away from you your disaster, / So that you can rejoice?” (Jer 11:15).
Isaiah powerfully presses this temple-as-idol problem against rebellious Israel in Isa 66:3, which “contains one of the strongest denunciations of cult in the Bible” (John Oswalt). The prophet compares the sacrificial actions in the temple system to various sins, including idolatry: “But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; / He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; / He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; / He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. / As they have chosen their own ways, / And their soul delights in their abominations.”
According to several competent exegetes, Isaiah’s prophecy has an ultimate fulfillment in the Herodian temple after Jesus’ death. For instance, E. J. Young (Isa. 3:520) argues that they “continued offering the sacrifices even after the one true Sacrifice had been offered.” Alexander (Isa. 3:460) states that this passage teaches “the general doctrine that sacrifice is hateful in the sight of God if offered in a wicked spirit, but with a special reference to the old sacrifices after the great Sacrifice for sin was come, and had been offered once for all” (cp. Watts, Isa. 34-66, 356).
Lloyd Gaston argues for “a definite anti-cultic polemic in the tradition behind the gospel according to Mark.” Thus, in Mk 14:58 the Lord himself alludes to the temple as an idol for Israel. There we read witnesses against him declaring: “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands [cheirpoi ton] and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” We see cheirpoi ton frequently used of idols in the LXX in the place of eid lon or tupos. In the LXX the term “almost always” (TDNT 9:436) refers to pagan idols: Lev 26:1; Dt 4:28; 2Ki 19:18; 2Ch 32:19; 27:15; Psa 115:4; 135:15; Isa 2:8; 10:11; 16:12; 19:1; 21:9; 31:7; 46:6; Hab 2:18. Beale states that it “always” refers to idols (G. K. Beale). Marcel Simon notes that “chiropoi ton is the technical term, so to say, by which the Septuagint and the Greek-speaking Jews describe the idols.” We also find it in Philo (Vit. Mos. 1:303; 2:51, 88, 165, 168) and the Sibylline Oracles (3:650ff; 4:8-12). Consequently, Craig Evans notes that “made with hands” is a “hint at [the temple's] idolatrous status”; Lightfoot agrees. Therefore, P. W. L. Walker (10) calls this phrase “potentially incendiary.”
Many argue that Christ is setting the physical temple of Israel over against the spiritual temple (the Christian Church). This is certainly a legitimate theological truth taught elsewhere in Scripture. However, this does not appear to be Mark’s main point here as will become more evident in Stephen’s reference to Christ’s statement (see below). Besides the “not made with hands” (acheiropoitois) statement occurs alone when speaking of eternal realities, such as spiritual circumcision (Col 2:11) and the resurrection body (2Co 5:1). It is not contrasted with cheiropoiton, as here in Mk 14:58.