Jesus told the Chief Priests and the Elders of Israel that they could tear down their temple and He would raise it up again in three days. John, who gives us this saying of Jesus, also says with hindsight that Jesus was “speaking about His body” (John 2:21). So, when Jesus rose from the dead, what had been built? Throughout John’s gospel, there are direct allusions to the book of Genesis. John starts his gospel in the same manner as the book of Genesis saying, “In the beginning…” (John 1:1). John ends his gospel saying that Jesus rose from the dead “on the first day of the week.” (John 20:1, 19). When John says that Jesus cried out, as He was dying on the cross, “It is finished!” we should hear the echo from Genesis 2:2 “By the seventh day God completed the work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” These are not accidental allusions. But what does it all mean? We have, for a long time now in the Western Church, thought too little about the creation. We have become unwitting Platonists who, like the ancient Greek Philosopher, consider the physical world to be of secondary value to the “real world” of spirituality. Many of us would resound with the popular bumper sticker which says “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings who are having a physical experience.” To that I want to say that we are indeed physical beings and we are indeed spiritual beings and it is a shared experience. When my father died, I knew, during his funeral, that my father was NOT in the room. His body was there but he was not. However, my Dad would also not fully be my Dad without his body. Spiritual experiences are real experiences, but the world of matter matters. Neither the spiritual nor the physical should be exalted one above the other. The Bible says that when God created the world (a place of physical matter) He “saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31. What God has called good, let no man speak of as evil. But what does this have to do with the house that Jesus built? Everything. The Cosmic Temple The book of Genesis is not really concerned with giving us information about material origins. The first few chapters of Genesis are much more interested in ontology, that is, the origin of function and purpose, than it is about providing us an explanation for material origins. Genesis is more focused on the question “why?” or “what for?” than it is about the question “how?” The first few words of Genesis says that “the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Genesis 2:2. Note that it does not say that the Spirit of God was hovering over nothing. The Spirit of God was hovering over something that was not brought into any particular order and God brought to it order. Why is this important? It is important because if we can understand particularly what order God was
bringing this creation into, we will understand the house that Jesus built. John Walton argues in his book “The Lost World of Genesis One” that in the ancient Near East, it would have been clear to any reader that what was happening in the creation of the world was the building of a temple. This point would have been particularly clear on day seven when God took his rest on the seventh day. Dr. Walton explains: “Deity rests in a temple and only in a temple. This is what temples were built for. We might even say that this is what a temple is—a place for divine rest.” (Pg. 72). And it was on the seventh and climactic day of creation that God moved in, took up His residency, His “rest” inside His cosmic temple. The creation was completed, but it was a project that still had a future, it was going forward, particularly through the lives of the image bearing human beings who were commissioned to be fruitful, multiply and to watch over God’s creation. They were to share in God’s creation project. However, with the beginning of human rebellion, the flood of chaotic evil was let loose on God’s creation project and the world fell into disrepair. In other words, the temple was brought into disrepair and needed cleansing and restoring. The Messiah Restores the Temple In the days of Jesus' early ministry, restoring the temple was a central task for anybody claiming to be the Messiah because the temple was at the heart of the covenant. It was the temple in Jerusalem that set Israel apart from every other nation. More precisely, it was the presence of God within that temple that set Israel apart and said that Yahweh was Israel’s God, and Israel was God’s people. At the time of Jesus, Israel had a temple and it was indeed glorious. Herod had spent much time and money beautifying the temple in an attempt to validate his claim to the title “King of the Jews” before the people. However, Jesus was not impressed and neither were many other Jews. Many of the Jews living during the early days of Jesus’ ministry perceived their nation as being in exile even though they lived in the Promised Land. They may have been in the Promised Land but they were ruled over and badly treated by their pagan overlords and the corrupt puppet-
King of the Jews. But even more significant was the fact though their temple had been rebuilt, Yahweh had never returned to take up residency within it as He had in days of old. The Shekinah Glory never came to rest in this temple as is had in the previous temple. For these reasons, much of Israel still saw themselves as being in some manner under God’s judgement for rebellions in the past. If God had not returned to dwell with His people, their sins were still being held against them. When the Messiah came, with Elijah leading the way before Him, the nation would be cleansed from their disobedience, and the Shekinah Glory would return and Israel would defeat her enslaving enemies. This is why it is significant that Jesus, though announcing God’s judgment on Herod’s temple, still claims that He will restore the temple and that John tells us that Jesus was referring to His body. In the same way, John also gives us Jesus’ words to Nathaniel saying “You will see the heavens opened up and the angels ascending and descending upon the son of man.” John 1:51. John couldn’t make it any clearer, Jesus Himself is the temple of the living God. The Cosmic Temple Restored At the center of any temple, you will find an image of the god to whom the temple is dedicated. At the center of God's cosmic temple, God placed His own image in the form of human beings. Jesus, as the representative man for the entire human race, went before us to take on the powers of sin and death that had usurped and enslaved God's creation. In the Resurrection, Jesus defeated those powers and restored the cosmic temple and the image of God within it. John puts the ironic
announcement on the lips of Pontus Pilate who was "Behold, the man!". In other words, Jesus is what the image of God truly looks like in human form. And now, after the Resurrection, Jesus says to His followers "As the Father sent Me into the world, so I send you....Receive the Holy Spirit." (John 20:21,22). The Shekinah Glory is the Holy Spirit that has come to take His rest within individuals, but especially within the community of Jesus' followers. One day, we are promised, the whole earth will be flooded with this Glory as the waters cover the sea. That is why this Gospel is for the whole planet. The world has a new Lord! And the cosmic temple is being restored! This is good news for planet earth!