What did Jesus mean by the words, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?

During the early part of Christ’s ministry (28 AD), He went up to Jerusalem. There, He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. So, “He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.  And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16).

This was Jesus’ first cleansing of the Temple, His first act of national importance. By it He declared His right to look after the affairs of the Temple and announced His mission as the Messiah.

The sign for the Jews

Then, the Jews said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” (John 2:19,20; cf. Matt. 24:2; Mark 13:1, 2; Acts 6:14).

Jesus clearly was talking figuratively. By these words, He for the first time spoke of what will happen to Him at the end of His ministry. Thus, He referred to the body temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20), and specifically to His own resurrection (John 2:19, 21).

But the Jews didn’t want to accept His Words and instead applied it to the literal Temple structure (John 7:15, 20, 33–36; 5:17, 18; 8:52–59; 9:29; etc.). They rejected His divine mission and the fact that He was the Son of God that came to earth to save mankind. And at His trial they misconstrued this same passage and used it out of its context to mean that Jesus wanted to literally destroy the temple (Matt. 27:63, 64).

The meaning of the sign

The parallel between the literal Temple and Christ’s body is undeniable. The Temple on earth was built to be the earthly dwelling place of God (Ex. 25:8, 9). For the Shekinah glory of God’s glory appeared, above the mercy seat (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:17). But now, as John has stated (John 1:14), the divine glory of God appeared in the person of Jesus Christ and later to be revealed in His church (1 Cor. 3:16).

After the resurrection, Christ’s Words came to pass just as He predicted and all those that accepted Him, understood that He was talking about His body and raising it from the dead (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).  They realized that Heaven and earth may pass away but Christ’s Words shall never fail (Matthew 24:35).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

 

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