This is part 4 in a 23-part study on the book of John. Below is a modified transcript.
Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we thank You for this opportunity to gather together and for us to study Your word together. We pray that You would give us discernment and clarity and give us ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart willing to obey and respond so that we are not merely hearers but doers of Your word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We are looking at John chapter 2 and if your recall, there are no chapter and verse distinctions in the originals. You always want to remember that. It’s very important for you to see the smoothness of this because it then goes on to say in chapter 2 verse 1, on the third day. The question some scholars have is you identify earlier days for example John 1:35, again the next day and so forth. Some scholars identify four previous days and then three more days after those days and that is to say His journey up to Galilee would perhaps be for a total of seven days. The sixth day would have been passed over in silence according to this view and in that setting you’d have the idea of seven days of witness and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ.
Now I like a particular application or a particular way of seeing that I found in a book by Gary Burge in the NIV application commentary that says that in John you actually have two books. The book of signs is chapters 1-12 and the reason why it’s called the book of signs is because you have this first main part, which looks at semeion rather than dunamis. Dunamis is the word used in the synoptic gospels of Jesus’ works of power and it means miracles. Signs, semeion, point beyond the miracles to the spiritual revelatory power and meaning of the miracles. So that it’s one thing to believe in Him because you see miracles but it’s another thing to see that the miracles actually point beyond themselves as signs for us to recognize who He is. See the concept there. There’s the idea that John uses this phrase in contra distinction from the synoptic gospels. As the book of signs, he’s developing a case very generally with a sign followed by a discourse and then another sign and a discourse. Although in chapter two we do not have a discourse until after Nicodemus in chapter 3. Then speaking of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist in the 2nd half of chapter3, there is another discourse. You have this kind of back and forth movement but the signs are designed to teach us something about who He is. We’re also invited to see that there is a response. There are some people who accept and some who do not embrace Him. There’s movement between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
There’s also the book of glory, which are chapters 13-21. The reason why it’s called the book of glory is because Jesus interprets the hour of glorification, namely His departure to the cross. This is the time where God Himself honors and exalts Himself through His Son so that the cross, rather than something being ultimately dishonorable turns out to be a sign of great victory, power and authority where He is in fact lifted up before all men.
Within the book of signs though, I want you to notice especially as John 2 opens up to us that we see John concentrating on both the festivals of Judaism and the institutions of Judaism. The reason why he’s doing this is he’s contrasting what Jesus is offering in the new covenant with what was found in the old covenant under Judaism both in terms of it’s institutions and it’s festivals. If we were to consider, for example, the institutions in John we would look particularly at chapters 2-4. There we would discover a wedding in Cana (2:1-12), the temple in Jerusalem (2:13-25), a Rabbi in Jerusalem (3: 1-24) and a well in Samaria (4: 1-42). You have various powerful symbolic institutions that are repeated over and over again in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible you have a contrast between what Christ has been providing and you have these institutions there, the wedding was a major feast, the temple, the Rabbi and the well. Then there are the festivals. They’re particularly found in chapters 5-10. The festivals would be the Sabbath in chapter 5, Passover in chapter 6, then Tabernacles in chapter 7, and Hanukah, the festival of lights in chapter 10. We have a symbolic portrait of how Jesus consistently does something here. There’s a theme of replacement and fulfillment in each of these cases. He’s going to be replacing the temple, a whole new way of teaching, a whole new approach to the Sabbath, the Passover and the festivals. All these things now are being replaced in one way and being fulfilled in another. He’s actually going to fill them with the wine of His own life and revelation. We have a radical transformation that’s taking place.
Typically here is what we see throughout the action. You usually see a four-fold pattern. Jesus would appear at an important event in Judaism- that’s the first thing. So whatever the important event is, He shows up, whether it’s a marriage, at the temple, one of the members of the Sanhedrin approach Him or a well which symbolized a very big theme in the old covenant. Jesus exploits symbols that are associated with those very events to make His own identity clear. Each of these things exposes something about His actual identity. There’s a progressive exposure of His very identity. John is a book of increased exposure and increased revelation just as the whole bible is progressive revelation as you go. God Himself in His very nature and character is being exposed in a revelatory manner. We increase in our grasp of the light and He builds to a crescendo so that we have a fairly clear grasp of who He is and what He claims to be by the end of the gospel. We, the readers, are given the opportunity to decide whether we embrace Him as being the Christ, the Son of the living God, and by embracing Him we receive life in His name. There’s a wonderful literary structure using subtle sub-themes and layers like this.
Secondly, He exploits the symbols that are associated with the event to reveal something about Himself.
Thirdly, He shows or provides something in abundance that the event actually promises. At the wedding He provides the abundance of wine. The temple had been dead but now He clears it of the old and cleanses it so He can replace it with Himself- with a temple that is His actual body.
The fourth characteristic is He’s misunderstood along the way. Typically what we’re going to see is that whatever He does seems to also be misunderstood often by the religious leaders. There is this motif that John exploits as he develops his material in this gospel.
Let’s take a look then first of all at the wedding in Cana of Galilee and we’ll see this pattern here. Mary, His mother, is there. She’ll be showing up again at the cross in John 19. John 2:1-5, “On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there: and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” Some people regard that as being a little harsh. I’ll explain what’s really going on there in a bit. John 2: 5-11, “His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever He says to you, do it.’ Now there were six stone water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification containing twenty or thirty gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the water pots with water.’ So they filled them to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.’ So they took it to him. When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, and said to him, ‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’ This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.”
The first thing we want to look at is the importance, the symbolic meaning of the wedding and the importance of this context here. Some critics believe this is a luxury miracle that wasn’t necessary. I want to argue that this is not at all purposeless. It really reveals some important principles of supernatural power and also it is a miracle of deep significance. Again we have in verse 11 this semeion, the miracles of Jesus, signs displaying the glory of Jesus and the wonder of His redeeming love. We have here the seventh day of the new creation week, which manifests His glory if we take that approach to it although it can’t be demonstrated. Scholars disagree over the structure of the days but unlike the other signs in this gospel this one is not followed by a discourse explaining a spiritual truth. I think it does however show how Jesus is exposing the inadequacies of Judaism as a religion of salvation and initiating his own disciples into the necessity for His own redeeming death. You have these stone water pots that are going to be for purification and Jesus is going to take them and use them in an entirely different way. The water for ceremonial purification is now going to be transformed into wine and that wine gives life. As it says in Psalm 104: 15, it makes man’s heart glad. This is a fitting symbol of the new spiritual power that’s made available for humanity by the shedding of the blood of Jesus. We have a picture as well of a great abundance and great quality. I believe in one way it’s the miracle of the kingdom. It’s a miracle of what Jesus is going to inaugurate. There’s an eschatological dimension to it. You have to understand this- weddings in those days really were the chief celebrations of the year. They were a big thing- even bigger than in our culture. They often lasted for a week of celebration. It would be very easy for the wine to run out especially if you had more guests than you expected. Jesus says His mother, Himself and the disciples were invited there because Cana really wasn’t very far as a village, maybe four miles from Nazareth. Folks in that environment would’ve been invited and very likely they ended up with more than they expected and more people hung around as well. This was a huge embarrassment as you can well imagine and so this is a cause of concern.
Why did Jesus’ mother feel the need to take upon herself the burden of that? It’s not explicitly answered but there is indeed a concern or compassion for the painful situation that that actually implies. It’s as though they are insulting the guests by not providing for them. This is no minor thing. I want to suggest that this whole image here of weddings in the Jewish mindset was their best way to typify the glories of heaven, the glories of the kingdom. The idea of table fellowship is a big thing in the scripture as you can imagine. Table fellowship is the idea of people enjoying food and drink together in the context of communion and community and doing it in the context of worship. So the Eucharistic meal became the ultimate portrait of the heavenly banquet. The idea here is that we have something that seems to point beyond itself and Jesus now is actually filling it with something far, far greater.
The key verse for interpreting this is verse three where we see His mother saying, “They have no wine.” She didn’t say do something about it. She just makes this observation. They are out of wine. Of course Jesus knows very well that she is pointing this out to Him. She doesn’t know what He’s going to do. This is the beginning of the signs. I don’t believe she expected Him to actually do a miracle here. What did she expect Him to do? I’m not quite sure but the point here is He did more than she expected.
But then He makes a statement here so different really that His concern is really different from Mary’s. That’s why He says and this is literal, “Woman, what to me and to you.” - Greek literally translates- what to me and to you. Now woman in modern English conveys the erroneous impression that Jesus is reproving His mother. That’s not the case. Actually He used that word in other contexts as well with others for example the woman of Samaria, Mary Magdalene at the tomb and so forth. It’s not unusual to use that term but the context tells us that they don’t have the same concerns. What He’s really saying is this- what do you and I have in common in this issue. You’re being concerned about the human and I’m concerned about My Father’s will. If what you’re asking me to do does not really move in the direction of what My Father’s called me to be then it’s a different concern. We see that the word hour is used in a very special way as it consistently refers to the hour of the Passion and it hasn’t come yet. The certainty of that hour would condition everything Jesus would say and do. That hour is a critical theme. We see it again and again in this gospel. It’s an important motif because it’s God’s timetable in the life of our Lord. I want to say that in verse 5 Jesus’ greater concern didn’t prevent Him from acting according to His mother’s unspoken question.
Here’s what happened. Instead of saying anything back to Jesus at that point, she turns to the servants and says, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” She has no idea what He is going to tell them to do. But she does know that He’s there for a reason. She was sure He was going to take some action and this is the point I want to stress- He will act in His own way. He will not come to our beck and call in the way we might expect. He will act for His own reasons. He will act in His own time. May I tell you that that is a portrait of prayer. We often want God to act in our way for our reasons. I want you to see that He has sovereign authority. I also want you to see that His actions would not only satisfy the physical need there but also point beyond that to a greater abundance and provision of spiritual needs.
The physical in John is always ultimately pointing beyond itself to the spiritual, which would be won by His coming sacrifice. We see in verse 6 as we go beyond this- 6 stone water pots for the purification. Clay water pots would not do. They could become contaminated. They’d need to be broken. A stone water pot according to the Mishna which was the Jewish oral tradition that was later written down, was still available in the oral tradition at that time. Later, around 200 A.D. the Mishna would be written out and actually become part of the Talmud with the Gemara, the commentary. You also had the Babylonian Talmud and the Palestinian Talmud. You had theses Talmudic commentaries, which were being memorized from Rabbi to Rabbi and part of the oral tradition was that you needed to have stone water pots for it to be adequate for purification. Note too that the temple was made of stone and there’s a connection between this miracle and the cleansing of the temple and the fact that the temple was empty or had something wrong in it that needed to be cleansed before that which is of the Spirit can enter.
These were very large containers- 20 or maybe 30 gallons each. Jesus was going to fill them up with wine and fill them to the brim as He stresses so we’re dealing with 120 to 150 gallons of wine and not ordinary wine. I would argue that this is the best wine ever created! My point is that this was not just a miracle of abundance but of kingdom quality and excellence as well. They were surprised because typically you bring out the better wine first and then when people’s palates were not as discerning they’d bring out the cheaper stuff. The idea that he would save the best for now is a surprising concept to them. We see here a miracle really of the old creation and the parable of the new creation. The new worship in spirit and truth surpasses the old as much as wine surpasses water.
Turn to Ephesians 3: 20. It’s a reminder of the imagery we have of the blessings of God, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” We have this wonderful portrait of how much superior this is compared to anything people had known. We see here a picture as well of how God saves the best for the new life, the new creation in Christ. It then in effect, points beyond itself to its ultimate fulfillment in the echelon or future in God’s kingdom. Remember what Jesus said to His disciples, “I will no longer drink with you of the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”(Mark 14: 25) Remember that strong word- I will drink with you in my Father’s kingdom. Now that will be impressive. That will be a feast. I want to tell you at that banqueting table and I’ve said this before but the best meal you’ve ever had on this planet is like cardboard in comparison with that. It’s like the food you thought was good will be like stale, old, cheap food. You haven’t tasted anything yet! The same would be true of art and of music and all sorts of beauty. We haven’t seen all that awaits us. We’ve only seen little patches, little hints and little bits every so often as a flash of God’s true glory come because I don’t believe we have the capacity to grasp it or to appreciate it. It would be too much for us. We don’t have the capacity now but it will be good and our capacity will be enhanced. That capacity was limited and bounded as a consequence of the fall and will be more than restored in the resurrection. You might recall that we will be so great in God’s economy that we will be the greatest creatures He’s ever created- even above the angels, which we will judge. “You’ve made them for a little while lower than the angels. You have crowned him with glory and honor” (Hebrew 2: 7) The idea here is that we will be judging angels. We see these hints in these anticipations.
Though it was only the disciples who saw what had happened in verse 11. “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” So we see a further ground beyond John’s testimony for believing Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You can see the disciples now seeing more about Him. They had already followed Him. They’ve already committed themselves to Him but now they have more ground, more warrant and more experience. The more they walk with Him, the greater their base is. I want to stress then that as the evidence increases their trust, their confidence and their assurance increases.
May I suggest that’s the way it should be in the spiritual life. As you build a personal history of God’s work in your life, shouldn’t that increase your trust and confidence in Him? Particularly as you see how He’s delivered you from things you thought you could never escape from in the past. We have all been in hard spots haven’t we? You looked ahead and said, “How on earth am I going to escape?” But then we look back and some how see a pattern and you build a redemptive history that we’d do well to recall. Our typical experience however is to forget God’s blessings in our lives and to move on as if they hadn’t happened. I suggest that you would be well advised to cultivate the spiritual discipline of remembering. I don’ really see that in Richard Foster’s, Celebration of Discipline, but it wouldn’t be a bad discipline- call it remembering. That is to say the discipline of gratitude, a spirit of thanksgiving honors God. When you do that you gain a confidence in God’s revealing of Himself progressively in your own life. You’re discovering not just God’s works but also God’s way. As you move in that direction then you begin to get an increased confidence in spite of the difficulties of the present tense, which can face us from time to time. We get a confidence because He has delivered us from the past and we can be confident about what He’ll do in the future and in our present. We have a confidence as well that He is leading us in a direction that will ultimately be for our highest good. His disciples then were really entrusting themselves to Him.
We move now to verses 12-25 and the cleansing of the temple. We saw in the first section the glory of Christ manifested and now we’re going to see something about His zeal and about His knowledge of humans. His zeal is going to be particularly revealed in v. 12-23 and His knowledge of what we’re about particularly in v. 23-25.
In verse 12 there is this little hint, a motion here that mentions, “He went down to Capernaum.” He’s going from the heights here down to the area around the Sea of Galilee. He goes down to Galilee, down to Capernaum, which is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, which is identified as His home- the place where He really made what is His ministry focus-His headquarters. “He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.” My own view about the brothers of Jesus is that Mary actually had other children. Mary had no union with Joseph until she gave birth to the Son, suggesting there were later children. I have no problem with that but what took place as years went by would be the assumption that Mary was a perpetual virgin. That idea became more and more prominent. These would then be called His cousins or something like that and in any case they were among those who came down to Capernaum. They stayed there a few days and after that incidental verse we go then to the following.
John 2:13-25, “The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. 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 moneychangers and overturned their tables; and to those still selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your House will consume Me.” The Jews then said to Him, ‘What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 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. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
In verse 12 it says after this or after these things. It usually introduces a new section and this section in John’s gospel extends to the end of chapter 4 with a minor break at 3:21, which deals with the new temple, the new birth and the new worship. In verse 13 after a brief notice of this visit to Capernaum we shift to Jerusalem and the temple. We go from Cana to Galilee and now we’re going back to Cana before we were actually in Jerusalem. This north and south and earlier picture we have in Mark 11: 18 of the second cleansing that leads directly to the passion. Scholars debate over this because you know the synoptic gospels associate the cleansing of the temple with an event just prior to or near the end of His life. So how does a very early account in His life fit in with that? There are only two options. Either there were two cleansings that were distinct from one another and that this one was an aberration of what would happen at the later cleansing or some would say that John as often happens in the gospel, he reorganizes his material and deliberately takes it out of actual chronological sequence to emphasize a theological point. Frankly, I don’t have a dog in this fight! The fact is it doesn’t bother me all that much. I lean toward it probably being two cleansings but you could go either way. The thing I want to stress is that it’s not a contradiction. There’s no need for that to be contradictory, as either way would work. I’ll let you wrestle with that.
At the very least, you know how some people say these can’t be harmonized. My perspective is illustrated in this example. If you went to any intersection downtown Atlanta or anywhere and you had people at four corners and they saw an accident take place and you interviewed them independently of one another you’d have a lot of overlap but you’d have some variation as well. One might for example point out there were two people there. Another might say, “he said” and doesn’t refer to the other person. Just like you have two angels in one account that were at the tomb and one angel in the other account at the tomb. Well if there were two there was one. That is to say there isn’t just one and only one but it could be referring to the more prominent of the two who was actually speaking. There’s not a direct contradiction and frankly the usual so-called contradictions are based, I think, on an inadequate view where things have really already been revealed. It’s kind of a low view of the authority of scripture and the inspiration itself.
Question: In audible
Answer: The theological purpose in this case is because He’s dealing with the institutions of Israel so it would be very a propos for Him to talk about the Rabbi, the temple, the marriage and these kinds of themes and then the various institutions, the feasts and the Passover. And for him to build a case as well for why there might have been some encounter with Nichodemus later on, the growing hostility but we don’t know for sure. Again competent scholars disagree over this so there’s enough ambiguity and happily I will say where Scripture has a little bit of ambiguity it’s not concerning important doctrines.
My point about the four witnesses is this; if the four gospels could be exactly meshed I would suspect collusion. That’s my point. It’s actually evidence of the fact that they are eyewitness accounts but they don’t make an attempt to smooth it out and yet they can be harmonized.
We have something that would be given to us in v. 14- the spirit of Malachi’s prophecy although it’s not actually quote. Jesus, after His earthly ministry began, worked in the spirit of Malachi’s prophecy. Let me read it for you so we can get that setting from the last of the Old Testament prophets. Malachi 3: 1-3, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,’ says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.” You can see a similarity there, a motif that would be in the Messianic text that would fit very well with this idea of refining and purifying.
In any case, look at v. 14, “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. “And in the temple”- the word that is used here is the word “hieron” not the word “naos”. Hieron is used for the whole of the temple precinct including the court of the Gentiles whereas naos is used of the shrine, the inner sanctuary. It’s interesting in v. 19 He switches to the word naos. So He cleansed the outer courtyard but the naos, the inner sanctuary, is what He is referring to as His own body. There is a play on that imagery. As we go, we see Him making a scourge of cords and driving them out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen. The reason why he’s doing it is not necessarily because they’re extorting the other people but because it was happening there in that context, that precinct. It was something that was supposed to be a house of prayer, and they made it into a place of commerce. Frankly the scary part about this kind of cleansing is that I often wonder if Jesus were to come to one of our institutions, one of our churches, what would He do in that setting? I almost wonder if He wouldn’t get some pew ropes and start putting them together and start driving something away.
It does show here that He does know what is in people’s hearts. It’s a theme we’ll see in a moment. He also sees that the visible always has a way of occluding the invisible and eventually people get all wrapped up in their routines and rituals. They get so fired up about exact performance in a particular way and you follow the stages correctly and the supposition is that outward performance will lead to inward knowledge of God. It doesn’t work. Outward ritualism is not the same as an inward embrace and an inward trust. It’s easy for us to connect and go to the organization over the organism. That’s just our natural bent isn’t it? We focus more on the organizational side of the faith more often than we do on the organism as the living body of Christ. It’s the visible over the invisible.
Answer: The difference is this. Commerce was not to be done in the temple precinct. If you brought animals for sacrifice or if you had to purchase animals for sacrifice it should not be done there in that precinct. It shouldn’t be done in a context that’s sanctified or set apart. They made it a place of commerce. Part of what was going on there was the Sadducees saw this as a context in which they could gain the power, and wealth and also as means of getting their hands into the pot. People would also bring their own animals and there was some corruption going on because sometimes they would bring an animal and they would say it was not perfect. They would sell them a perfect animal and then put the so-called imperfect one into the pen and resell it to the next person who had brought a so-called imperfect animal and on and on. That sort of thing did go on.
The point here is that this particular place, this locale, should be set apart not as a place of commerce. If it was to be done it should be done elsewhere. This was the court of the Gentiles but it was still associated there with the actual temple precinct.
The main point that we want to stress is that Jesus is challenging the externalism and the outward life and the commercialism that was actually becoming so rife that it became more of a context for greed and exploitation. Do not take the sacred and render it profane. We have here not only the reforming of the old system but He’s actually abolishing it. In this context He’s specifically denouncing fraudulence of moneychangers and He’s also objecting to any business at all that’s being transacted in the temple.
Answer: It’s a good observation. They don’t question what He’s doing. It’s almost like they sheepishly acknowledge that there’s something correct and right about what He’s doing. He’s the first one to stand up to what everyone knew was an increasingly corrupted system. Indeed, in Mark’s account of the later cleansing (if we take it that way) Jesus recalls that the temple had been intended by God to be a house of prayer for all people. If you look at Mark 11:17 with me you see a slightly different angle. In fact it even mentions He drove them out in v. 15. In John’s account he mentions the animals and Mark just mentions the tables and so forth, then it mentions the doves. He wouldn’t permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. May I tell you, by the way, that’s pretty powerful stuff because there were thousands of people there. What time of the year was this? This was in fact the Passover. This is a big time. It’s a crowded place and there are thousands of people there. What manner of man was this that He had the authority to prevent them from doing this? It says in Mark, in this context here, and I take it that there’s a parallel between them- He has an authority to keep them from actually carrying merchandise and that’s when He said, “Is it not written,’ My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him.” (Mark 11: 17-18a)
Answer: She’s asking why did God require animal sacrifice and really why doesn’t He require it now? The answer would be in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats never made propitiation or satisfaction for sin. All it did was point beyond to the One who would ultimately bear our sins. This One, when He offered Himself actually sat down at the right hand of God having made a complete sacrifice so that there would no longer be need for any more animal sacrifices. The Old Testament sacrificial system always pointed to the life of the One who would come. The idea was this- the life is in the blood. Leviticus 16 focuses on this. So that life being in the blood becomes a key symbol then when the new covenant, in My blood, is established so that the blood becomes the life. The life is the Zoë, the life of Christ that He’s offering to us. My point then is that the old covenant sacrifices could only anticipate and put off the debt but they could never actually pay for the debt. Hebrews stresses this- the animals could not actually pay for the sacrifice. They would only cover it up. So once a year in Yon Kipper, the Day of Atonement, the high priest would go into the Most Holy Place and there he would actually take the blood of a goat and he would sprinkle it on the Mercy Seat. What was inside the Mercy Seat? The law of God was in there. You have the blood of the animal covering between them and the law so in effect God sees that and it’s an anticipation of Christ who would not just cover but ultimately atone- so His life for our life- the life in the blood- so now we have His life in us. I’d particularly recommend Hebrew chapter 8,9 and 10. It would be good to read about that. So what are the shadow and the substance? Once we have the substance, this One, after He’s offered Himself as a sacrifice, one time for sin, sat down, which means the work was now satisfied or complete and no further sacrifice was required after that. That would certainly relate to this.
Now in John 2: 17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.” You have this recall of His zeal for the house. It was bound to lead to His destruction and ultimately to His own death. That’s why Jesus answered to them after they said “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”(v.18) He said, “ Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”(v. 19) Again we have His answers, prophetic of His death and resurrection. The implication is this; He’s challenging their whole system of sacrifice. The whole system of worship has to be destroyed so the new one can take its place. That’s really in part what is going on, His death and destruction, so it’s more than just the sacrilegious although that’s a part of it because they’ve made it a den of thieves and robbers. You don’t want to minimize that idea but there’s more to it than that. He’s actually going so radical in His claim that you’ve got to destroy the old so the new could come in. There must be a new covenant.
What does a new covenant imply in Hebrews 8,9 and 10? If there’s a new covenant there’s got to be a new priesthood. There has to be a new sacrifice, a new temple and all that is seen. So the new of these is consistently called better than the old. His own death and the destruction of the temple are now being linked together. He foretold this destruction on the eve of the Passion. What’s happening here is that Jesus is making possible a far more direct approach to God because it’s a pure offering, a sacrifice of worship- His own body.
His mission was not merely negative. The Resurrection would make possible the emergence of a new spiritual temple. First Corinthians 3: 17 is one of those texts I have in mind, “If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” That is radical in terms of its contrast to the physicality of the temple. Also 1 Peter 2:5 says something very similar, our understanding of the temple is changed now, “You also, as living stones, are being built as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are now living stones in this new temple as part of the body of Christ. He would be taunted by the very words that He’s using when he says, “Destroy this temple and in three days, I’ll raise it up”(v, 19) as He hung upon the cross. They said why doesn’t He deliver Himself if He can do that?
John 2; 20, “The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six yeas to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” What He is saying here is that you’re missing the spiritual truth here as so often happens. Herod the Great in 20 B.C. decided to build a great temple to win or earn favor with the Jews because he was regarded as an outcast. He was a descendant of the Edomites and as such he decides to actually embellish the second temple, which was not really that impressive compared to Solomon’s temple but he wanted to make it so great it would actually rival Solomon’s temple. He consecrated a thousand priests to be trained to become stonecutters so that it would be ceremonially pure. Eighteen thousand people were working full-time for many years to build this temple. It was an impressive piece of work. The consequence was it took many, many years to complete- beyond Herod’s life. In fact they started it then but it wasn’t completed until 64 A.D.- over 80 years in the building of it. The Romans destroyed it six years later. In each of these cases with the temple worship, this becomes a very significant concept here- the centrality of this as a political, religious, spiritual and social centerpiece of Israel’s history. Thus when Judas Maccabeus wanted to attempt to defeat the Greeks, which he succeeded in doing in the 2nd century B.C., he had to capture the temple first to win popular Jewish support, which he did. When the Romans occupied the land in 63 B.C., Pompeii wanted to be sure they were recognized so they created a fortress near that temple. They built a fortress called the Antonio Fortress in the northwest precinct of the temple. They would actually overlook the temple area. That’s exactly where Jesus, as you recall, was quote “prepared” for crucifixion under Pilate’s soldiers. The Jewish zealots when they stood against Rome in 66 A.D. again wanted to make the temple their fortress and rallying point. Finally when Titus came in and saw this impressive temple, he wanted to preserve it. He was so impressed and dazzled by the beauty of the temple but his soldiers destroyed it partly because there was gold in there and when it caught fire, the gold was actually seeping down through the stones. Some of these stones were huge. They would weigh up to 70 tons. They actually would remove every stone to get the gold that had seeped out. Not one stone will stand upon another. They kind of inadvertently fulfill His prophecy because when you go to Jerusalem, there are no stones in that temple. All you have is the outer courtyard wall, what we call the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, but you don’t have the temple. You can see some of the stones that were actually used in it but they’re not actually in the temple itself- a very significant focus.
John 2: 21-22, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 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.”
These last three verses in chapter 2 are intriguing to me. John 2: 23, “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.” Again they saw the signs and believed in Him but this was not necessarily the kind of belief that led to salvation but at the least they believed that He had authority.
But if it was just that they were impressed by miracles and power and so forth because of these signs, it would be one thing but Jesus on His part says in verses 24 and 25, “But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” He had a unique insight into human nature. He understood then that all belief in Him was superficial if it didn’t have the idea of the need for forgiveness and the conviction of Him as the mediator of that forgiveness. You could believe about Him but entrusting one’s self to Him as the One who provides great forgiveness and newness of life is the key issue.
The point here is this. I see Jesus who knows us very, very well and there are many who straddle the fence. They want His works but not His word. The issue is always going to be one of the entrusting of one’s self to Him rather than merely being impressed by what He has done. In that sense, we have to approach Him on His terms and not on our own. He does not come just to meet our idea of our needs but He comes to meet our desperate need before God.
We see One who knows us through and through. To be perfectly frank with you, He has a knowledge that is divine. None of us can look and understand the motivational structure of others. We think we can. That’s the danger. Look at 1 Corinthians 4: 3-5 where Paul speaks about this concept, “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.” For I’m conscious of nothing against myself, yet I’m not by this acquitted; the one who examines me is the Lord. (Note- In other words, I might have a clear conscience but that doesn’t mean before God all is well.) Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” He’s been talking about the judgment seat of Christ. It’s not a judgment of condemnation but one of reward.
To be perfectly frank with you there is this tension. I was thinking about this before I came over here. I had heard about a particular minister who made a statement that troubled me. I wrestled with this concept but then on the other hand I wrestled with it because one does want to have an impact in this world. If you’ve been given great gifts wouldn’t you want to make an impact in this world? One struggles with this. How do we separate that desire to have an impact in the world with ambition? Here’s where it gets very tricky. We don’t even fully know our own motives. Is it possible for example for us to so assume that our zeal is for God’s house? That our zeal is to build something that will be honoring and pleasing to God but after awhile if we’re not careful, is it possible that our own identity gets so wrapped up in that thing that it becomes a projection of ourselves and yet we sacrifice supposing it’s other centered? It’s totally self-denying and yet at the very core of it, could it possibly be something that is just an extension of one’s ego? I ask myself these questions. These are questions all of us must ask. I heard of a minister who said, “I don’t want to play second fiddle.” I thought about that and who wants to be a second fiddle? But then I got to thinking a bit more about that. Is it possible because God’s economy is so radically different from our own that many who become, from the world’s point of view, second fiddle may have a greater reward in the kingdom of heaven than many who aspire to be first violin? God’s not impressed with how many people we have an impact on, how many people we touch but rather the fidelity we have with what we have been given. I wrestle with this issue of motives because God knows my heart. I don’t even know myself let alone can I judge the motives of another. I’m here to tell you I often do. That’s the problem. I often assume I know what their motives are. That scares me because I am not Jesus and I don’t know. He knows.
The amazing part about this text is He knows us through and through and still loves us. That’s the thing that stuns me. Remember that phrase I told you before- the One who knows you best loves you most. Now I can’t put that together but He knows all our imaginations, all our foolishness, silliness, our foolish pride and all that, the coveting, our greed, our ambition, our envy, our secret pleasure when competitors or people in our industry stumble and at their downfall, our grieving at their successes when we thought we should’ve attained that success and yet He loves us and invites us to take what we do know of ourselves and to recommit that to what we know of Him.
Answer: He’s saying about prayer that this issue of outcome is a big thing. Remember and I’ve described this before- many of our prayers and mine are included- whenever I point a finger at you three go back to me. Many times my prayer strategy session with God is where I tell Him pretty much what I think my best interests look like and then try to wheedle and manipulate Him to accomplish them and give Him generous suggestions as to how to do it and when to do it. You see- that’s what my prayer will be. When actually a more biblical model of prayer is where I invite the Spirit of God to speak to me and reveal what His will is rather than trying to persuade God to do mine. That’s a harder matter of prayer because it requires a good deal more trust and particularly to let go of the ownership of the outcome, timing and way.
Answer: As to the timeline matter, Jesus’ grasp of His own life was increasingly based upon the vision of that for which He came. That is to say the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which is lost. He had a clear vision that He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. He Himself saw the climax of His life. He came for this very purpose that He might give His life so that the cross, the passion, was the climax. He sees that with more and more clarity and as it approaches He communicates that to His disciples with greater clarity. The issue of His hour is absolutely critical because everything He does has to be in timing with the Father’s timing. He seeks to be in tune with the Father’s will and with the Father’s timing. He discerned in John 13:1a, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world.” That’s a very significant point. My hour has not yet come; My hour has not yet come He would say and now His hour had come. That’s when He spoke to His disciples and trained them because He was about to leave them. How does that relate to me? We all have an hour in a way. We all have a great moment. We all have a purpose. We all have a life that’s supposed to move in a direction that God would have for us. Though we do not know exactly what that script will be or what it looks like. It’s revealed frame by frame instead. Our desire though is to readjust and in prayer, hopefully that becomes a context in which we realign ourselves with God’s timing, way and purpose. Generally speaking, all things being equal, my timing is not God’s. Almost always He answers later than I want Him to. It just seems to be the way it is. On the other hand, how would your faith be stretched if He always showed up just when you felt He should do it? He always waits beyond what you think He should, the eleventh hour and all that. That’s part of the process. In my view, getting to know a person is a disclosure. It requires a receptivity and a willingness to entrust yourself especially to Him in advance. When you say, God I want to do Your will even though I don’t know what it is in advance, you’re entrusting yourself radically to Him. He also knows your heart through and through but here’s where I rest in the fact that God is not yet finished with us and will not be until we are perfectly conformed to the image of His Son. Nothing will prevent Him from accomplishing that purpose. It’d be wise for us however to cooperate with Him in the process.
Let me close in a prayer. Father, we thank You that You have loved us even to the end and manifested this love. And this is love, not that we loved You but that You loved us and sent Your Son to be the satisfaction for our sins. May we therefore be a people knowing that we are beloved of You. Give us now the power, give us the security give us the sense of satisfaction in this life in Christ so that we can become people who love others as You have loved us. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.