“So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-22)
Jesus’ cleansing the temple, especially during the Passover season, was a pretty bold move on His part. The Jewish leaders (“the Jews”) were none too happy. Very likely these “Jews” were the temple authorities or representatives from the Sanhedrin. As you may recall from John 1:19, the Sanhedrin were the main governing body of the Jewish nation at this time. While under the greater governing authority of Rome, this group of 70 (comprised of both Pharisees and Sadducees) were responsible for the enforcement of the social and religious laws of Israel. They ultimately became Jesus’ main adversaries.
These Jews wanted to know on what basis Jesus had the authority to cleanse the temple of the money changers and the sellers of animals. They asked Jesus for a “sign” of authority by which to support His actions. As we have already noted from John 2:11 and the account of Jesus’ first miracle, a sign referred to a display of God’s power. The Jews demanded that Jesus display some miraculous sign that would give credence to His actions.
Such a demand by the Jews indicated their unbelief. The Apostle Paul commented about this Jewish fixation on signs in I Corinthians 1:20-25 when he writes, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
Jesus’ response to the Jews was not to comply or give in to their request for a crass display of supernatural power. Rather, Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews did not understand that Jesus was referring to the temple of His own body and His subsequent resurrection following His crucifixion. They literally thought Jesus was referring to the actual temple structure.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “They (the Jews) wanted proof that Jesus had the messianic authority to remove the merchants from the temple. Christ did not give them a sign immediately; instead, He gave an enigmatic response that they would destroy “this temple” and in three days He would raise it up (v. 19). Clearly, the Jewish opposition did not understand Jesus. (In fact, even the disciples did not get our Lord’s meaning at first because John 2:22 says that they did not understand Jesus’ saying until His resurrection.) The Jews thought Jesus was talking about the physical temple in Jerusalem, which had taken forty-six years to build (v. 20). In fact, the temple was not even really finished in Jesus’ day because work on it would continue off and on until AD 63, some thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But John inserts an explanatory comment in verse 21: the temple of which Jesus spoke was His own body. Thus, we see our Lord identifying Himself as the new and true temple. The old covenant sanctuary was going to be superseded by a new temple, even Jesus Himself, in whom His people are being knit together as a true sanctuary for God (1 Peter 2:4–5). Christ is the temple, and all men are commanded to come to Him in order to worship and serve the one true God.”
John Calvin comments that, “Jesus refuses to them (the Jews) the sign which they demanded, either because it would have been of no advantage, or because He knew that it was not the proper time. Such compliances He occasionally made even with their unreasonable requests, and there must have been a strong reason why He now refused. No greater approbation of the divine power in Christ could be desired than His resurrection from the dead. But He conveys this information figuratively, because He does not reckon them worthy of an explicit promise. In short, He treats unbelievers as they deserve, and at the same time protects Himself against all contempt. It was not yet made evident, indeed, that they were obstinate, but Christ knew well what was at the state of their feelings.”
What signs, if any, have you ever or recently, asked of God? Even with a sincere heart we need to be cautious to base our faith on an additional miraculous sign other that the singular one given in Scripture: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This event is the believers singular hope and confidence.
Dr. Sproul concludes, “Many Christians are eagerly expecting the day in which the physical temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt. Today’s passage, however, tells us that the only temple we should be looking forward to is the temple that is Christ’s body, which we will see in the new heaven and earth. The temple pointed to Christ and it is fulfilled in Christ and His church, so let us love Christ and His people.”
Let me encourage you to read Hebrews 9-10.
Soli deo Gloria!