THE TEMPLE’S FAILURE AND DECLINE (1)

PMW 2018-043 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

AD 70 is an important date in redemptive-history. In that year the ancient temple of Israel was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. This catastrophe is anticipated in the OT. Over and over again the temple cult is disparaged by the OT prophets when Israel falls into sin: Isa 1:10-17; 29:13; 43:23-24; Jer 6:20; 7:1-6, 21-22; 11:15; Eze 20:25; Hos 6:5-6; Am 4:4-5; 5:21-25; 9:1; Mic 6:1-8; Mal 1:10. Jeremiah even presents God as dramatically denying he ever directed Israel to sacrifice: “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you’ “ (Jer 7:22-23).

The problem with the temple cult arises not from the God-ordained ritual, but those who minister the ritual. Consequently, “from at least the time of Malachi there had been protests about the priests, whose corruption meant that the sacrifices offered in the temple were neither pure nor pleasing to the Lord (Mal. 3:3f.). Similar complaints are found in the Psalms of Solomon (2:3-5; 8:11-13), at Qumran (1Qp Hab. 8:8-13; 12:1-10; CD 5:6-8; 6:12-17) and the Talmud (B. Pes. 57a), while Josephus describes the way in which the servants of the priestly aristocracy stole tithes from the ordinary priests (Antiquities XX.8.8; 9:2)” (Morna Hooker, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, 264).


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In the Gospel record Jesus’ subtle conduct and overt teaching prepare us for the removal of the temple as both theologically unnecessary and as spiritually corrupt. John’s Gospel is especially interesting in this regard: In Jn 1:14 Christ appears as God’s true “tabernacle” (eskēnōsen en ēmin). [1] This theme of Jesus replacing the religious features of Israel recurs repeatedly in his ministry: In 1:51 he, rather than the temple or high priest, is the nexus between heaven and earth because “the angels of God [are] ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In 2:19-21 he declares his body the true temple. In 4:21-23 he tells the Samaritan woman the physical temple will soon be unnecessary.

When he attends the festival of Tabernacles (Jn 7:2ff), in 7:37-39 he himself becomes the living water which is associated both with the festival reminder of Moses producing water from the rock (Ex 17:1-7; Nu 20:8-13) and the temple promise (Zec 14:8; Eze 47:1-11). In 8:12 he calls himself “the light of the world,” which reflects the festival ceremony (Sukkah 5:1). In the “I am” debate in Jn 8:13-59 “Jesus was appropriating to himself . . . the whole essence of the Temple as being the dwelling-place of the divine Name” (P. W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 168).

In Jn 10 Christ comes to the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, which celebrates the Maccabean victory in reclaiming the temple and re-consecrating the altar and temple. There Jesus does not enter the temple, but comes only to Solomon’s portico (10:23; cp. Jo 11:56). He declares himself to be the one “whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (10:36). In 12:41 while referring to Isa 6:5 Christ becomes the Shekinah glory of the temple. Walker (172-73) argues that the upper room episode (Jn 13-17) reflects a “Temple-experience” beginning with foot-washing as an initiation ritual (Jn 13:3ff) and ending with the “high-priestly prayer” (Jn 17). Thus, it appears “John’s over-riding message is that the Temple has been replaced by Jesus” (Walker, 170).

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On and on I could go. In fact, in all the Gospels “there was no denial of its previous theological status, but that status was now appropriated by Jesus” (Walker, 164). As Brown (The Gospel of John, 1:122) observes: The Gospel of “John belongs to that branch of NT writing (also Hebrews; Stephen’s sermon in Acts vii 47-48) that was strongly anti-Temple.” He even notes that this may explain why he is called a “Samaritan” in Jn 8:48, in that they reject the Jerusalem temple.

By Jesus’ appropriating the temple’s status, it is rendered unnecessary. But at the same time, its corrupted employment by the Jews required its destruction, not simply the removal of its status, allowing it to remain as an empty shell. And its destruction is a key issue in the NT revelation. In the next few articles I will be considering this matter. Stay tuned!

Notes

1. The writer of Hebrews critiques the temple in terms of the transitory tabernacle. He does this because the old covenant and all of ritual is “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “is ready to disappear” (Heb 8:13). God is about ready to shake “created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb 12:27). The “created things” are the physical implements of the temple (Heb 9:11, 24).


Commentary on Matthew 21–25 Notice
I am currently raising funds to engage research and writing on a commentary on Matthew 21–25, which contains the Olivet Discourse. This commentary will provide a Composition Critical approach to this textual unit in Matthew. In doing thus, it will show why Matthew presents Jesus’ Olivet Discourse as he does, in a way that differs in several respects from Mark and Luke. This commentary will demonstrate that the Olivet Discourse deals with both the AD 70 destruction of the temple and the Second Advent (which is anticipated by AD 70). This is important for presenting Christ as more than just a Jewish sage concerned for one nation.

If you would like to support this, please see my GoodBirth Ministries website, where you can give a tax deductible gift and receive a free occasional newsletter updating donors on my research. Thanks for your help! Click: GoodBirth Ministries.

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