Why Invent a Messiah Who is the New Temple?

Introduction

As of today, for Jewish people who still believe in the coming of the Messiah, one of the central tenants is the Messiah will help rebuild the Temple.  In Ezek.37:24-25, God says that “David” will rule His people, a reference that is supposed to mean the Messiah.  The description of building the physical Temple  (seen in Ezek 40-48) comes later on in the book. Given the Messiah is supposed to be the ideal representative of his people, it should be no surprise He is has a role in the rebuilding of the Temple. Since the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., Rabbinic Judaism had to come up with an entirely new sacrificial system.

The Temple was the center of Jewish religious, cultural, political, and economic life. Anyone that has read the Old Testament knows that there is always an emphasis on the rebuilding of the Temple. In other words,the Temple is everything!  Therefore, the impact of its destruction in 70 A.D., can be seen in some of the following comments in Rabbinic tradition:

Since the day that the Temple was destroyed, a wall of iron has intervened between Israel and their Father in Heaven. b. Ber 32b

 

Since the day when the Temple was destroyed there has never been a perfectly clear sky. b. Ber 59a

 

Through the crime of bloodshed the Temple was destroyed and the Shechinah departed from Israel. B. Shab 33a

 

Ever since the day the Temple was destroyed the rains have become irregular. B. Ta’an. 29 a [1]

Why Would the Gospel Authors Invent a Messiah who is the Temple in Person?

Over the years, one of the common complaints by skeptics of the Gospels is that the Gospel writers supposedly took great liberty to make up or embellish certain parts of their work to make their point. In other words, many parts of the Gospel authors  ’invented’ or ‘fabricated’ certain aspects of the life of Jesus. Also, the Gospels are supposed to be so biased and given they are written by the ‘insiders’ how can we trust these documents? In response, the more I have studied the Second Temple Jewish period in Jewish history, I have found the exact opposite.

Jesus as the Temple in Person: A Blasmphempous Claim

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 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. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 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” –John 2: 13-22

Forgiving sins was something that was designated for God alone (Exod. 34: 6-7; Neh.9:17; Dan. 9:9) and it was something that was done only in the Temple along with the proper sacrifice. So it can be seen that Jesus acts as if He is the Temple in person. Even in the trial scene in Mark 14:58, it says, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.’ The Jewish leadership knew that God was the one who was responsible for building the temple (Ex. 15:17; 1 En. 90:28-29).  Jesus is the foundation of the new temple (Jn 7:37-39) and he is the place for worship (Jn. 4:23-24 ). Also, God is the only one that is permitted to announce and threaten the destruction of the temple (Jer. 7:12-13; 26:4-6, 9;1 En.90:28-29). [2]

So it is apparent that for the Gospel authors to make up a Messiah who behaves as if He is the physical Temple in person would only make it more difficult to convince a Jewish person about the messiahship of Jesus.This point has been expanded on by N.T. Wright in his book The Challenge of Jesus: See a summary here:

The Departure of the Shechinah

I just noted above that in  the Rabbinic literature, the Temple being destroyed meant that the Shechinah had departed as well.

Through the crime of bloodshed the Temple was destroyed and the Shechinah departed from Israel. B. Shab 33a

In the Bible, the Shechinah is the visible manifestation of the presence of God in which He descends to dwell among men. While the Hebrew form of the glory of the Lord is Kvod Adonai, the Greek title is Doxa Kurion. The Hebrew form Schechinah, from the root “shachan,” means “dwelling” while the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle.

The Shechinah glory is seen in the Tankah in places such as Gen.3:8; 23-24; Ex.3;1-5; 13:21-22; 14;19-20; 24; 16:6-12; 33:17-23; 34:5-9. In these Scriptures, the Shechinah is seen in a variety of visible manifestations such as light, fire, cloud, the Angel of the Lord, or a combination of all of these. The ultimate manifestation of the Shechinah was seen in the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai (Ex.19:16-20).[3]

The Shechinah continued to dwell in the holy of holies in Tabernacle and the Temple (Ex.29:42-46; 40:34-38; 1 Kin.8:10-13). Upon the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity, the second temple was finished. However, the Shechinah was not present in this temple. Haggai 2:39 is a critical passage since it discusses that the Shechinah would return in an even different and more profound way. Therefore, in relation to the incarnation, the Shechinah takes on greater significance in John 1: 1-14. As John says, “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.” As already stated, the Greek word “Skeinei” means to tabernacle. John 1:14 literally says,” the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” [4]

The story of Jesus has tremendous parallels to the Shechinah story in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, the Shechinah would appear and disappear at certain times while eventually making a permanent home in the tabernacle and the temple; the Shechinah also departed from the Mount of Olives. Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus as the visible manifestation of the Shechinah, also appeared and disappeared; He also departed from Israel from the Mount of Olives. [5]

Remember, the rabbis could speak of taking upon oneself the yoke of Torah or the yoke of the kingdom; Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Mt 11:29). Also, the rabbis could say that if two or three men sat together, having the words of Torah among them, the shekhina (God’s own presence) would dwell on them (M Avot 3:2) ; Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be among them.”[6]

Conclusion

I could cite many more examples. But suffice to say, the more we learn about the Second Temple period, it is clear that it would be counterproductive for the Gospel authors to invent a Jesus that would die, replace the Temple, or be the Lord of the Sabbath.

Sources:


[1] Michael Brown, Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol 4 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus(Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books, 2007), 152-161.

[2] Willam Lane Craig,  Reasonable Faith: Third Edition (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008), 307.

[3] A.G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah: A Study of Prophetic Events (Tustin CA: Ariel Press, 1977), 409-432.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

 [6] Oscar Skarsaune,  In The Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity (Downers Grove, ILL: Intervarsity Press, 2002), 331

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