I’m sure you woke up this morning thinking, “I’m a temple!”
Probably not. But, I’d like to show you why you should think that—and I’d like to show you from the Gospel of John. So, let’s do a quick tour of John to see why he uses the theme of the Jewish Temple.
Before we begin, you should know that the Hebrew Bible (what we sometimes call “the Old Testament”) includes a story that is driven by a temple theme. On page one, we read that God’s presence lives in a paradise (“Eden” = “delight”). In this paradise-garden, he places his image (like the kind you’d put in temples)—that’s us! Humans. These humans are told to “guard” and “keep” the paradise which are the same commands given later to priests who’ll care for Israel’s temple.
After humans rebel, God still mercifully lives with his people. First, his presence can be found in a tent, called a “tabernacle” (Exodus 25). Then, eventually, he moves into a physical brick-and-mortar temple built by King Solomon (2 Samuel 7). Fast-forward, and Solomon’s temple is destroyed by surrounding kings, and God’s people soon decide to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1–6). But even with that temple built, the prophet Ezekiel dreamed of a day when a better temple would arrive, one like God’s people had never seen before (Ezekiel 40–48).
But, what exactly happened at these temples? Just like the first temple in paradise, the temple was a place where heaven and earth could meet, where people would be able to go and experience God’s presence. Wherever there’s a temple, God could be known—what a grace!
Enter John’s Gospel.
On its first page we read that Jesus, the Word “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Interesting. So, Jesus links himself to God’s tent used by Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness—the mobile presence of Yahweh.
Fast-forward, and in a conversation with Nathaniel, Jesus says, “you will see greater things than these…truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:50–51). We should ask: “where else have I read about God’s angels ascending and descending?” The answer is: when Jacob dreamed and saw a ladder connecting heaven and earth, and angels are climbing up and down on it (Genesis 28). Jacob awakes, and names that place “Bethel,” or “God’s House”—the exact phrase used to talk about the temple in other Bible passages (1 Chronicles 6:48, Hebrews 10:21). Jesus claims that he is the ladder—the ultimate connection between God’s space and human’s space—Yahweh’s new house.
Seeing the injustice and selfishness happening in Jerusalem’s temple, John writes that Jesus chases money-changers out and declares, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16). Then, when asked why he has the right to oversee the worship of the temple, he promises that the temple will be destroyed, but then rebuilt. All Jesus’ hearers miss his point. But then we read that the disciples later remembered, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). It’s Jesus’ body that is the true dwelling place of God—the real temple.
Let’s keep going. While sitting with a woman with a complicated history by a well, Jesus gets into a debate about the temple. Instead of telling her that she must go to the temple to worship God, Jesus says, “woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus indicates that a new phase has started in how to worship and know God—the temple is no longer needed because the true Messiah has come onto the scene.
In his Gospel, John also imports images from the Jewish festivals of Passover, the Feast of Booths, and Hanukah, and ties them to Jesus. In the Passover, a lamb is killed to remember God passing over the Israelites in Egypt before the Exodus. Then Jesus is called a lamb, showing that he’s taking away his people’s sin (John 1:29, 36). At the Feast of Booths, water is consumed and lamps are lit to remember how Yahweh kept his people alive in the wilderness. Then Jesus offers for anyone to come to him and drink (John 7:37), and proclaims that he’s “the light of the world” (John 8:12). During Hanukah, a Jewish figure who is commissioned by God is remembered. Then Jesus calls himself the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (John 10:36). All three of these feasts took place in or around the temple, and here, through using identical words and images, Jesus is described as fulfilling each feast.
Surprisingly, from John 13 on, the temple is never mentioned again. But even as Jesus moves towards his cross-death, he assures his followers that his presence will dwell in them (John 14:10, 15:4). They won’t be alone. In fact, Jesus dies and rises again in order to create a new people—a new family. That’s what he means when he says, “In my Father’s house (“household” or “family”) are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2). Besides comforting his disciples with the news that they’ll forever belong to God, Jesus also means that his redeeming work is forming a people who will be filled with his Spirit—becoming his new house.
All believers, because Jesus is in them and they’re in Jesus, now make up his temple. We’re God’s new house to be bearers of Jesus’ ongoing presence in and to the world until he returns. Jesus is the place where heaven and earth meet, where people can go and experience God’s presence. Wherever Jesus is, God can be known.
And if you’re in Jesus, that’s also you.