A Tarnished Temple

Haftarah Reading: Terumah (1 Kings 5:26(12)-6:13)
Gospel Reading: John 2:13-22
Commentary by: Kelsey Bryant

God is always seeking to establish a connection between Himself and His creatures, spiritual and physical, heaven and earth. He reaches down to cause us to look up and stretch forth our arms in response.

We could say, in a sense, that He took a risk when He commanded men like Moses, Solomon, and Zerubbabel to build a sanctuary for Him, a heavenly patterned place where humans could come in contact with aspects of hashamayim (the heavens). It would be a risk because on earth such a place is vulnerable to desecration, and desecration of a holy site is a spit in the face of the God who wants to meet with mankind there. Not to oppress them with rules, but to love them, teach them, reach out to them, save them from themselves.

Of course, it’s not actually a risk because He foreknew what would happen to His holy places (Deuteronomy 32; 1 Kings 9:6-7). But that makes it all the more puzzling to us mortals . . . if the Lord knew we would desecrate His Mikdash (holy place) because we hated Him, why put it on earth where we could defile it, and therefore insult Him?

Because He’s seeking that connection above all else. He loves us. Even if mankind largely rejects Him, He won’t give up on us completely.

There’s a Jewish midrash (Exodus Rabbah 35.4) that says the Sanctuary was a pledge; it would be forfeited if Israel sinned and deserved destruction. It would be completely demolished, whereas God would always preserve a remnant of Israel. In this midrash, Moses asks what would happen if there was no Temple. God replies He would take a righteous man as a pledge so that He could pardon Israel’s sins. Though the first half of the midrash is debatable, it draws the comparison between the Sanctuary and a righteous man—who resembles Yeshua.

Yeshua called Himself a temple: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). John goes on to explain, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (v. 21). His body was a holy dwelling for Yahweh to sojourn on earth for a specific purpose (John 1:14). The Temple buildings were not enough. Yahweh had to form an even more intimate connection from heaven to earth. But wasn’t that risky? A man is more vulnerable to spite and violence than a building. Once again, the Scriptures speak for themselves: God desires to connect with us. His plan included the destruction of Yeshua’s body and then His resurrection in three days. It was impossible for death to hold Him (Acts 2:24). Because of His victory, Israel and the physical Temple will be also “resurrected” when we dwell together in the Messianic Kingdom.

Even though Yeshua Himself was a temple, He still honored the physical House of His Father. He cleansed the Temple courts of corruptly exorbitant moneychangers and merchants on a certain Passover. (Passover was good timing, considering how it’s the season when leaven must be purged away.) These people were using the Holy Place for their own material profit.

Handfuls of people throughout history also honored and sanctified the Mikdash in order to honor and sanctify their Creator. Our Haftarah portion describes the First Temple’s construction. Solomon was so meticulous he didn’t allow hammers and chisels to be used at the Temple’s building site (1 Kings 6:7), perhaps a nod to the Exodus 20:25 prohibition on using these tools for altar stones because that would be profaning them.

Yahweh told Solomon at the end of our Haftarah portion, “Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in My statutes and execute My ordinances and keep all My commandments by walking in them, then I will carry out My word with you which I spoke to David your father. I will dwell among the sons of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.” (1 Kings 6:12-13) The First Temple’s destruction happened because the kings of Judah and their people did not walk in Yahweh’s commandments. Likewise the Second Temple was destroyed because of Israel’s sin. Likewise Yeshua’s body, for the sins of the whole world.

Another midrash says that like Solomon built the First Temple and Zerubbabel the Second, the Messiah will build another (Yalkut Shim’oni, Vayechi, par. 159; referenced in The Concealed Light by Tsvi Lavan). Not only was Yeshua’s physical body a temple, He laid the foundation for His followers to be a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). And not only that, but He will raise a physical building as the temple, as the prophecy of Zechariah 6:12-13 says. How appropriate that Yeshua was a carpenter.

From our Master, we learn the level of spiritual ardor that we should have toward any of the temples that our God dwells in, whether it’s our Messiah, our bodies, the body of Messiah at large, or the physical Temple when it is rebuilt. Let us follow our Master, diligently keep out any sin from our lives, love the assembly, and be ready for when the Temple is again in our midst.

Photo Credit: Wayne McLean