Mt.12:6 "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here."
To Replace the Temple as the Place where we meet God
Who was Jesus?
There plenty of different answers to that question. Some are right, some are wrong and others are misleading.
Many want to identify him as a great religious teacher and in doing so they think they have done well. Understood properly we would want to agree with them – he was not just a great teacher he was the greatest – yet many people who give this answer are in reality dismissing Jesus as they damn him with respectable but faint praise.
Perhaps they mean well but often their words betray that they have never really taken seriously what Jesus actually taught. There are those who will declare that Jesus was a great teacher simply because that’s what they’ve heard others say – but they’re not really interested to find out for themselves. Others assessing Jesus to be a great teacher may have been very selective in what they have paid attention to, effectively cherry-
But I want to suggest that no-
Jesus and the Temple
Mt.12:6 "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here."
The Pharisees had found another occasion to criticize Jesus. His disciples were eating on the Sabbath and Jesus was doing nothing about it. Why didn’t he conform to their understanding of Sabbath obedience? In his answer Jesus spoke the words in the text just quoted. The "something greater than the temple" refers to himself and he went on to describe himself as the Lord of the Sabbath.
Matthew doesn’t tell us what the Pharisees made of this but they can hardly have been impressed because just a few verses later we learn that they were soon conspiring to kill him.
But what did Jesus mean when he made that declaration and compared himself favourably to the temple?
Well to understand the comparison we need to think for a moment about the temple and the place and function it occupied in Jewish life.
There had been a temple in Jerusalem for around a thousand years by the time Jesus walked its streets. This solid construction had been designed to replace the more temporary structure of the tabernacle tent and it was intended to function as the central focal point of OT Jewish religion. The temple, as with the tabernacle which preceded it, was the place, the only place, where God promised to meet with his people.
The temple was the place where sacrifices were to be brought and offered. It was the place where the priests were to carry out their divinely ordained ministries. Without the temple the heart was quite simply missing from Jewish religious and spiritual life. (Even today you can catch a sense of just how important the temple was in Jewish life when you see pictures of Jews on the temple mount in Jerusalem. They gather by the western wall which is the last remaining part of Herod’s temple that was largely destroyed in AD70. We more commonly refer to this wall as the "Wailing wall" because for centuries Jews have lamented there the loss of their temple.)
And Jesus declared he was greater than this Temple! More important than the unique place where God had met with his people for a thousand years!!
The history of the temple is impressive. It was first constructed in the time of King Solomon and when everything was ready and in place God filled the place with his glory. The temple was an impressive, holy and highly significant place:
1Kings 8:11 "the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD"
This was of course similar to what had happened centuries earlier in Moses day when the tabernacle had been completed:
Ex 40:34 "the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle."
Despite its grandeur the temple was unable to house the God whom the heavens and the highest heaven were insufficient to fully contain. The temple was, after all, made by human hands and the best it could offer was a temporarily dwelling place for his glory which at times filled the place. But what an important place it was for all its limitations!
We can catch a glimpse of this importance by listening to the words of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer. We can also catch a glimpse of its wonder as we think about the great succession of priests and high priests who laboured there to bring men and women near to God. For hundreds of years God met with his people through this long succession of imperfect mediators but the time was coming when all that would be changed and changed forever.
Before the time for such radical change would arrive the prophet Ezekiel was called to exercise his prophetic ministry. He served during the difficult days of the nation’s exile in Babylon and it was while he was in Babylon more than 500 miles from Jerusalem that Ezekiel received a number of spiritual visions. In these visions he not only saw the glory of God in the Jerusalem temple he also saw disaster as this same glory left the temple.
Subsequently Ezekiel had another vision in which he saw a whole new temple and this new temple he saw filled with the glory of God. I believe this vision to be about the glorious ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ though by no means everyone interprets these difficult verses in the same way.
Whatever the right interpretation is concerning Ezekiel’s later visions this remains crystal clear: the temple is bound up with the glory of God and it is the place where God’s people met with their God.
How then does all this help us to appreciate what Jesus had to say about himself as "greater than the temple"?
Jesus Brings Lasting Reality
Temple worship and temple service however impressive the whole might be were to be eclipsed by something far better.
Jesus had come to be the final sacrifice, the final Passover lamb; he had come to be the final high priest and it was he who would also be the final temple!
If glory was attached to the temple it was far more so attached to the Lord Jesus Christ and the NT doesn’t hesitate to tell us about his glory. The earthly temple couldn’t contain God but listen to what the NT declares about Jesus:
Col.2:9 "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,"
Jesus began to manifest his glory through the miraculous deeds he performed (Jn.2:11) but it is only as his work is completed that we read of him being "crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death" (Heb.2:9) James adds that he is "the Lord of glory" (Jam.2:1.)
The temple of OT times was very limited – it was only designed as a geographical place that God chose for a certain time to be the place where he would meet with his people –and as we have seen his presence there might come and go. Even in Jesus’ day the question as to where and how God should be worshipped was a live one. Do you remember Jesus’ discussion with that Samaritan woman in John ch.4? She asked Jesus about the right place to worship and Jesus pointed in an entirely new direction:
Jesus told his disciples that he was the way, the truth and the life and added that no man can come to the Father but by his mediation. Whereas the temple had many imperfect mediators there is now one perfect mediator in whom the fullness of the deity dwells. As the old apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the young man Timothy:
Jesus by his death has inaugurated a new and permanent set-
Having the Lord Jesus Christ we do not need a temple now or in the future!
Rev.21:22 "And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb."
Do you want to see God?
"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." Says Jesus (Jn.14:9)
Do you want to receive God?
"Whoever receives me receives him who sent me." Says Jesus (Mt.10:40)
Do you want to have the presence of God in worship?
"Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." Is what the Bible teaches us (1Jn.2:23)
Do you want to honour God,
"Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him." Says Jesus (Jn.5:23)
By his death and subsequent resurrection Jesus replaced the old temple with all its limitations and restrictions and is open and accessible to you wherever you might be or find yourself.
No long pilgrimages are necessary, no need to use a compass to set yourself to face the right direction. You can come to God in Christ any place, any time – there is not the slightest need of strenuous effort or careful planning – he has become the way to the Father by opening up that new and living way through his flesh.
So let us do what he says is necessary. Let us be those worshippers who do worship in spirit and in truth. Let us come to God in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And to God be the Glory