“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Of the four evangelists only John records the prediction of Jesus: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. To the Jews who heard this prediction, it must have seemed quite strange, impossible and even frightening; the destruction of the temple in previous centuries was deeply ingrained in the Jewish collective memory. Around 20 BC the Temple rebuilding/refurbishing had begun with great determination and intensity. It was such a massive undertaking that it would not be completed until about 64 AD. Sadly, about six years later (70 AD), it would be completely destroyed once again under the leadership of the Roman general, Titus. Jesus had predicted this destruction on several occasions (e.g. Luke 21:5-6); but the prediction that is before us is not about this literal destruction of the physical temple in 70 AD.
John 2:14 records Jesus entering the physical temple in Jerusalem. In this verse the Evangelist John rightly uses the Greek word for temple that identified the physical structure of the temple (ἱερόν). When Jesus later says, Destroy this temple, John uses a different word for temple (ναός). This is completely unrealized in our English translations because both words, though completely different, are simply translated temple. The word used by the inspired Apostle to translate Jesus’ word for “temple” is a Greek word especially identifying a god’s “dwelling place,” and for the Jews the word usually identified the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place where God said He uniquely dwelt. The Jews who heard Jesus make this prediction understood Him to be describing the destruction of God’s dwelling place…the physical temple, and then its physical rebuilding in three days. Though the prediction is only recorded in John’s Gospel, it is referenced as testimony against Jesus in Matthew and Mark during the Lord’s trial (Mt 26:61; 27:40; Mk 14:58) and as mockery at His crucifixion (Mk 15:29). Of course no one—not even the Apostles—understood the meaning of the prediction until Jesus rose from the dead: When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this [v 22].
How appropriate that Jesus would use this temple-illustration for Himself. He is THE dwelling place of God—the ultimate ναός! However, a possible misunderstanding with this illustration is that some might think that His body was a mere container for the Son of God. This is, however, not correct thinking. The Son of God literally became flesh, He did not merely indwell or possess it. Interestingly this “becoming flesh” is presented in John 1:14: And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us. The Son of God did not merely enter flesh, He became flesh. Dovetailing with our Lord’s “temple” prediction in 2:19, the Evangelist here in John 1:14 says that Jesus “tabernacled” among us. The Jewish Tabernacle was the precursor to the Jewish Temple, and indeed the physical man named Jesus is God’s dwelling place, which is wonderfully illustrated by both “tabernacle” and “temple”.
For man’s salvation the ultimate Temple (Jesus) would be destroyed by His death upon the cross; and on the third day He would raise Himself. Even as the Father and the Spirit are credited with His resurrection so the Son of God says of His body, I will raise it up. This is also indicated in John 10:18: I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. The Holy Trinity works unitedly.
Now, as our bodies have been redeemed by and baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, they also are described as God’s temple: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God [1 Cor 6:19]? And as surely as Christ’s body rose from the grave, our “temples” likewise will be raised from the grave on the Last Day, never to “be destroyed” again!