Click on the image to see it full-screen.
Gospel of John 2: 13-22 (NIV)
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
metaphor: noun; a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance*.
When Jesus said angrily, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”, he was not using a metaphor. The temple courts had indeed become a market, a place where goods were sold and bought and where money was exchanged. And because the temple had been dedicated to God as a place where he was supposed to “dwell” (1 Kings 8: 13) it was indeed Jesus’ Father’s house.
The expression of what we refer to as a metaphor came soon afterwards: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
What was the figure of speech and what was the reality?
It can be helpful for us to look afresh at Jesus’ use of terms or phrases found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, to see what God may have intended to be transitory in nature and what God intends to retain eternal value.
The temple (or temples) in Jerusalem were short-lived in historical terms. The temple from the courts of which Jesus drove sheep and cattle was to be totally demolished within a generation. It has not been rebuilt since then. The temple is the metaphor. The reality to which the temple metaphor is applied is the enduring body of Christ in which God continues to dwell.
Having dealt with the “temple” metaphor, it follows that we should now consider “body”. What is the real body? Is it the physical “skin and bones” which Jesus “wore” or the gathering of women, men and children who love and follow him and of whom he is the “head”? Jesus and later the Apostle Paul used “body” as a metaphor to describe a spiritual gathering and inter-reliance of people who have become members of the kingdom of God.
We are able to apply this thought process more widely. What was the Passover Lamb? Was it meat on which the children of Israel fed on the eve of departing from Egypt with Moses or was that a metaphor to assist the Hebrew people later to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and their consequent salvation?
Guide us Lord into your truth. Amen.
* The Macquarie Dictionary, Revised Edition, Macquarie Library Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1985.