All the history and temple theology that was covered in previous studies formed the background to Jewish beliefs in the first century. When Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry around 30 C.E., he came to a people who carried assumptions and expectations concerning the temple. The first followers of Jesus incorporated these beliefs about the temple to describe and explain Jesus and his work. It may be helpful to review some of the assumptions and expectations concerning the temple that we covered in the previous studies. Some of those assumptions include: The temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly presence. The tabernacle/temple was a way for God to manifest his glory presence to his people, a presence that began in the Garden of Eden. The temple was the place to offer sacrifice to maintain the covenant relationship with a holy God. Temple rituals were no substitute for a heart obedience to God, and God removed the temple when it became a mere religious/ritual token. In contrast to the destroyed temple, God would one day restore true worship among his people by giving them a new Spirit; through the Spirit, God could be present with his people no matter where they were located.
The New Testament writers also carried the above first-century assumptions about the temple. One of the ways that the author of the Gospel of John advances belief in Jesus as “the Messiah, the son of God” (John 20:31) is to present Jesus as the fulfillment of all previous sacred places. God revealed his presence at Bethel, in the tabernacle, and in the temple. However, God’s most intimate manifestation of his presence was not in taking up residence in a building, but taking on human flesh. John presents this idea in the first few chapters of his Gospel. This presentation includes beginning the story of Jesus not with his birth, but with Jesus’ relationship to God in eternity. In the opening of John’s Gospel, the reader is clued in to Jesus as the eternal “Word.” By beginning in eternity, John provides an important framework for understanding the whole story of Jesus’ earthly ministry.[i]
John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
By using the phrase “In the beginning,” John recalls the first words of Genesis at the beginning of time. John makes some very incredible claims about the “Word.” The Word existed at the beginning as God and with God. The Word created all things and in him was life that was the light of men. The idea of God’s Word being the creative principle behind creation was actually widely held in that day. The Jews (and to varying degrees the Greeks) thought that divine wisdom and divine word were God’s attributes (or eternal principles) upon which creation was founded. However, John’s introduction takes a shocking turn in verses 14-18.
John 1:14-18: 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.'” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.
In verse 14 John makes a startling claim about the Word. The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The “incarnation” (becoming flesh) is a foundational tenet of Christianity and worthy of its own discussion. But for the purposes of this study, we must move on to the question of how these verses relate to Jesus’ fulfillment of sacred places. In John 1:14, the Greek word translated “dwelt” is not the usual word that John or the New Testament uses to communicate the general sense of dwelling. The verb here is better translated “tabernacled.” It is the same word that Revelation uses (Rev 7:15; 12:12; 13:6; 21:3) for dwelling in the heavenly tabernacle. The context also argues that John chooses this word because of its association with God dwelling in the holy tabernacle. Note the tabernacle-related terms and ideas in this passage: 1) John follows up his pronouncement of the Word dwelling in flesh with “we beheld his glory.” As we saw in previous studies, God’s glory was one of the more common ways to refer to God’s presence in the tabernacle/temple. 2) John 1:12 adds that the children of God believe in “his name.” Like “glory,” “name” evokes Yahweh’s presence in the tabernacle/temple.[ii] 4) These verses also contend that the law is given through Moses (a law which culminates in Yahweh’s glory filling the tabernacle in Exod 40:33–38), but grace and truth (covenant love) come through Jesus Christ. The implication is that God’s glory “tabernacles” once again among his children but in the flesh of the Word.[iii] Just as God’s covenant faithfulness is expressed in the tabernacle, John contends that God’s ultimate covenant faithfulness is expressed in Jesus.[iv]
John’s language draws from terminology of the tabernacle to show how the Word is a manifestation of God’s glory presence. God tabernacles among his people in the person of Jesus Christ. How is God dwelling in Jesus different than God dwelling in people through the Holy Spirit? John makes clear that the “Word” was God and participated in creation. We can experience God’s presence, but Jesus is identified with God’s presence.
Question for contemplation: If John intends to connect God’s indwelling of the tabernacle with God’s indwelling of Jesus, what does this say about God and Jesus’ character? (Possible answers: God wanted to dwell among his people through the tabernacle, but the incarnation is an even closer dwelling and shows a whole new degree of “grace upon grace”! God’s presence was manifested in Jesus, and just as the tabernacle was God’s chosen place to meet with and forgive his people, so too God was meeting and forgiving his people in Jesus.)
John 1:1-18 is just the beginning . . .
The introduction to John’s Gospel encourages readers to understand Jesus as the manifestation of the divine presence and the fulfillment of previous sacred places. The allusions to the tabernacle in John 1:14 are followed up with references to Bethel in 1:51. As we already discussed in part 2 of study 5 (click here to review), Jesus is the new Bethel, the new gateway that connects heaven and earth.
While these passages suggest that John is depicting Jesus as the fulfillment of previous sacred places, the clearest expression of this idea is found in John 2:13-22. In this familiar episode of Jesus clearing the temple, Jesus’ body is called a temple.
John 2:13-22: 13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
Many first-century Jews expected the Messiah to bring a restoration that started with the temple. After Jesus clears the temple, the Jewish leaders ask him for a sign to show his authority to do these things (v. 18). If Jesus was the Messiah and proved it by doing a miracle, he would have that authority over the temple. Jesus responds to this request for a sign by saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jewish leaders cannot believe what Jesus is saying. After all, Herod’s massive temple building project had taken decades, so how could Jesus raise it up in three days? The passage goes on to explain that Jesus was not speaking about raising up the stone and wood temple in Jerusalem; he was speaking of the temple of his body. Everything that the temple meant could be raised in three days because Jesus incarnated the reality behind the temple.
In a span of two chapters John’s Gospel has associated Jesus with the tabernacle (1:14), Bethel (1:51), and now the temple. In John 4:21 Jesus says that the day is coming when people will no longer worship at the temple in Jerusalem. In and of itself, this string of passages would demonstrate a temple fulfillment theme since Jesus is not just the next worship center but a typological fulfillment of all previous holy places.[v] If the reader had not done so already, the explicit identification in John 2:21 between Jesus’ body and the temple “invites the reader to think of Jesus in temple terms from this point forward.”[vi] When coupled with the persistent theme of Jesus’ heavenly origins, the Fourth Gospel implies that Jesus is the heavenly reality behind all previous sacred places.
In ways far more intimate and profound than the temple, the incarnation of the Son of God bridges the gap between a holy, transcendent God and his fallen creatures. He is not only the priestly mediator that deals with sin, Christ also mediates the wholly other presence of the infinite Creator to finite human beings who are confined by space and time.[vii] Christ as the relational person that mediates God’s presence fulfills all previous places that mediate God’s presence.
Final questions for contemplation:
If all previous sacred places are fulfilled in Jesus Christ, how does this affect your view of Christ? (Possible answer: He is God! God’s glory presence is in Jesus in a greater way than any place. The restoration of God’s presence with his people has taken a decisive turn in Jesus.)
How does Jesus being a fulfillment of sacred places affect how you view God’s relationship to his people? (Possible answer: God has a plan to restore a close, eternal relationship with his people. He will go to extraordinary lengths to redeem his people, even taking on flesh so that his presence will be in Christ and flow to all people [the flowing of God’s Spirit presence to all his people through Christ is expressed in John 7:37-39].)
To what degree is Jesus your temple—the place you go to worship God and seek forgiveness?
[i] Adele Reinhartz, The Word in the World: The Cosmological Tale in the Fourth Gospel (SBLMS 45; Atlanta: Scholars, 1992), 18–30. Craig Koester, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 8.
[ii] Bill Salier, “The Temple in the Gospel according to John,” in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology (ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon J. Gathercole; Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 126–127.
[iii] Andreas Köstenberger, John (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 42; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (2 vols.; AB 29–29A; New York: Doubleday, 1966, 1970), 1:33.
[iv] Andreas Köstenberger, “John,” in CNTUOT (ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 422.
[v] Paul Hoskins, Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John. (Eugene, OR.: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 185–192.
[vi] Salier, “Temple in John,” 128. In addition, the early placement of the temple clearing event in John (whether an additional narrated event or moved from its original Synoptic location) also suggests that John “is intentionally making a point regarding how the temple is to be understood in relation to the story of Jesus’ life.” Brian Johnson, “The Temple in the Gospel of John,” in Christ’s Victorious Church: Essays on Biblical Ecclesiology and Eschatology in Honor of Tom Friskney (ed. Jon Weatherly; Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 113.
[vii] Thomas F. Torrance, Space, Time and Incarnation (London: Oxford, 1969), 52-55.