The temple(s)

You may be doing much better than I am during this semi-quarantine.  Taking one aspect:  although I’m normally a pretty good juggler and prioritizer, the mere thought of managing and juggling and dealing actually contributes to my sense of being overwhelmed.  This post may not be all that coherent.


This week, as in the last several, I have been caused to think a great deal about Israel’s temple(s) in Jerusalem.

I learned a few years ago to think newly about the so-called cleansing of the temple, told variously in John 2, Mark 11, Matthew 21, and Luke 19.  There’s something about this temple that Jesus was engaging with, to be sure.

My son and I have watched this 3-minute video more than once.  I am watching it again now as I revise this paragraph, and I’ll return to it in the future.  As emphasized in the video, many have connected temple symbolism to aspects of creation/Eden seen in Genesis 2-3.  It’s important to “see” the Israel’s temple and to be made newly aware of its place in that people’s identity.


The Jews saw the Temple as everlasting. 

(Well, it wasn’t.  Not quite, given the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.  But you get the point.)

Jesus (and history) showed the Jews—and all the rest of us—that it was not.  -bc


I recall the fact that GMatthew has the curtain being torn in two.¹  This week, I read of the making of that veil/curtain, in 2 Chronicles 3.  Then I read that N.T. Wright had once drawn a comparison between Jesus/Temple to sheriff/gunfighter in an old western, with the Lord saying, “This town is not big enough for the both of us.”  And I thought, yes, that’s right.

The Luke gospel, I have recently learned, seems to focus intently on the temple, if we take the mere number of occurrences of the word ἱερόν | hieron as our cue.  (It’s hard to limit meandering, but I could move as far away as Ezekiel or Paul’s Romans 12 here.)  The John gospel does something different, as related by N.T. Wright:

Did John then think, in writing a new Genesis, that he was writing a new Temple-theology?

The question answers itself:  of course he did.  The temple is one of the major themes throughout the book, with Jesus himself as the focal point:  hence, in the prologue itself, the decisive verse 14, where the Word became flesh . . . and ‘tabernacled’ in our midst.

N.T. Wright

I wonder if this conceptual play, even conflict, between Jesus and the Temple cult is a particular emphasis of John’s Gospel?  If so, it would explain why the story of clearing the market from the Temple was moved earlier in John’s telling of the story — to set the stage for the battle.

Among my personal mini-troubles during the past week have been varying results with internet stream-conferencing and other communications.  I would give my own recent Zoom meetings a B+ in achieving the desired result with little to no difficulty; some other meetings, a C or D; and a certain string of e-mail and phone conversations, an F.  In light of communication difficulties, might we ask Matthew if he had a struggle to communicate the inexpressible?   If the answer to that question is “yes,” maybe that the most dramatic, poetic way Matthew could find (or the way that was found for him!) to say something truly significant was to say the temple curtain was torn in two.¹  The Jerusalem temple, it seems, was not to be eternal. 

“Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple.  They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.”  ― N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

This post may be an outpouring of incoherent tidbits or a semi-valuable smattering from my backlog ….  I may not be managing or juggling or dealing very well at all, but we can be assured of this:  there is One who is managing and dealing.


¹ Translation note on Matthew 27:51 from the NET Bible, referring to the word translated “curtain”:

The referent of this term, καταπέτασμα (katapetasma), is not entirely clear. It could refer to the curtain separating the holy of holies from the holy place (Josephus, J. W. 5.5.5 [5.219]), or it could refer to one at the entrance of the temple court (Josephus, J. W. 5.5.4 [5.212]).  Many argue that the inner curtain is meant because another term, κάλυμμα (kalumma), is also used for the outer curtain.  Others see a reference to the outer curtain as more likely because of the public nature of this sign.  Either way, the symbolism means that access to God has been opened up. It also pictures a judgment that includes the sacrifices.

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