By Dr. Keneth L. Gentry Jr
Over and over again in Scripture the temple cult is disparaged by the OT prophets when Israel falls into sin: Isa 1:10-17; 29:13; 43:23-24; Jer 6:20; 7:1-6, 21-22; 11:15; Eze 20:25; Hos 6:5-6; Am 4:4-5; 5:21-25; 9:1; Mic 6:1-8; Mal 1:10. Jeremiah even presents God as dramatically denying he ever directed Israel to sacrifice: “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you’ ” (Jer 7:22-23).
The problem with the temple cult arises not from the God-ordained ritual, but those who minister the ritual. Consequently, “from at least the time of Malachi there had been protests about the priests, whose corruption meant that the sacrifices offered in the temple were neither pure nor pleasing to the Lord (Mal. 3:3f.). Similar complaints are found in the Psalms of Solomon (2:3-5; 8:11-13), at Qumran (1Qp Hab. 8:8-13; 12:1-10; CD 5:6-8; 6:12-17) and the Talmud (B. Pes. 57a), while Josephus describes the way in which the servants of the priestly aristocracy stole tithes from the ordinary priests (Antiquities XX.8.8; 9:2)” (Hooker Mark 264).
In the Gospel record Jesus’ subtle conduct and overt teaching prepare us for the removal of the temple as both theologically unnecessary and as spiritually corrupt. John’s Gospel is especially interesting in this regard (see Gaston 205-12; Walker 167-170; Davies Land, ch 10; Beale Temple 195ff): In Jn 1:14 Christ appears as God’s true “tabernacle” (esk n sen en min). This theme of Jesus replacing the religious features of Israel recurs repeatedly in his ministry: In 1:51 he, rather than the temple or high priest, is the nexus between heaven and earth because “the angels of God [are] ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In 2:19-21 he declares his body the true temple. In 4:21-23 he tells the Samaritan woman the physical temple will soon be unnecessary.
When he attends the festival of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2ff), in 7:37-39 he himself becomes the living water which is associated both with the festival reminder of Moses producing water from the rock (Ex 17:1-7; Nu 20:8-13) and the temple promise (Zec 14:8; Eze 47:1-11). In 8:12 he calls himself “the light of the world,” which reflects the festival ceremony (Sukkah 5:1). In the “I am” debate in Jn 8:13-59 “Jesus was appropriating to himself . . . the whole essence of the Temple as being the dwelling-place of the divine Name” (Walker 168). In 10:22-39 while the Jews are celebrating the Feast of Lights which recalled the re-consecration of the Temple under the Maccabees, he presents himself as the one who is “sanctified and sent.” Immediately after declaring himself “I am” (8:58) he departs from the temple (8:59), which in John’s Gospel serves as his sign that God has departed her temple (Davies Land, 290-96). This appears to be why John does not mention the temple cleansing at the close of his ministry: because in John’s structure, he has Jesus depart the temple at 8:59 taking God’s presence with him.
In Jn 10 Christ comes to the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, which celebrates the Maccabean victory in reclaiming the temple and reconsecrating the altar and temple. There Jesus does not enter the temple, but comes only to Solomon’s portico (10:23; cp. Jo 11:56; cf. Davies Land, 294-96). He declares himself to be the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (10:36). In 12:41 while referring to Isa 6:5 Christ becomes the Shekinah glory of the temple. Walker (172-73) argues that the upper room episode (Jn 13-17) reflects a “Temple-experience” beginning with foot-washing as an initiation ritual (Jn 13:3ff) and ending with the “high-priestly prayer” (Jn 17). Thus, it appears “John’s over-riding message is that the Temple has been replaced by Jesus” (Walker 170).
On and on I could go. In fact, in all the Gospels “there was no denial of its previous theological status, but that status was now appropriated by Jesus” (Walker 164). As Brown (Jn 1:122) observes: The Gospel of “John belongs to that branch of NT writing (also Hebrews; Stephen’s sermon in Acts vii 47-48) that was strongly anti-Temple.” He even notes that this may explain why he is called a “Samaritan” in Jn 8:48, in that they reject the Jerusalem temple.