In the days of Jesus, the Jewish people believed in a form of incarnation. They did not believe that God could become a man, but that heaven and earth connected at the Temple in Jerusalem. God, for the Jewish person, dwelled in some sense in the temple. The temple was seen as the central incarnational symbol of Jewish life.
The Incarnation of the Temple
This is one of the primary reasons that the teachings and actions of Jesus were so controversial. In many different ways and at many different times, Jesus indicated that He was the new temple; that in Him people could receive forgiveness from sins, access to God, and restoration from exile. When people believe that God is in the temple, imagine what a shock it would have been for Jesus to announce that the Temple would be destroyed (John 2:19-21).
But as shocking as it was to predict the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, John indicates that Jesus was actually talking about His own body! We tend to think that this would soften the blow of such words for Jewish people at the time, but the opposite is actually true.
It was bad enough for Jesus to say that He was replacing the Temple, but then for Him to say that in Him the Temple would be destroyed was much worse than simply saying that the Temple building itself would be demolished. Why? Because the Temple as a building could be rebuilt, as it already had been. But if the Temple is replaced by a man, and then the man dies, the man cannot be rebuilt, and therefore, the connection between God and man, between heaven and earth, would no longer exist.
Imagine There Was No Temple
If there was no Temple—either in a building or in a man—then there was no connection between heaven and earth. Where then could a person go to meet God? Where could a person offer their sacrifices and say their prayers? Where could they get forgiveness and cleansing from sin?
All of this was solved in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, but became an issue again when Jesus returned to heaven, only to be solved once again at the birth of the church in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers. Whereas the Temple had been replaced by Jesus as the nexus between heaven and earth, the church now replaced Jesus.
While as a man, Jesus could only be in one place at one time, as the Head of the church, Jesus can be wherever there are members of His body, the church. Just as Jesus was the incarnation of God, so the church is the incarnation of Jesus. We are, therefore, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16, the Temple of God. We are now the meeting place between heaven and earth. We are the church, the incarnation, the Temple of God, the body of Christ to the world.
We are building the wrong Temple
And yet what have we done? We have gone back to what Jesus so carefully and completely obliterated. We have ignored His work on the cross, His death and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and returned to constructing our Temples as the meeting place between God and man on earth. We refer to these buildings as “God’s House” as the place where we go to “meet and worship God.” Such ideas deny nearly everything Jesus accomplished and taught!
Jesus lived, taught, and died to show the world that God does not dwell in buildings built by human hands. God lives and works and redeems in and through His people, the church.
If Jesus has left the building, and destroyed it on His way out, why do we make every effort and spare no expense to reconstruct more buildings?
Do they really help us accomplish our mission as the church?