What did Jesus mean when He said he was going to “raise the temple in three days”?
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” Mark 15:29-30 NIV
The Excitement is Gone
I absolutely love the movie La La Land. I have seen it seventeen times. I have the soundtrack on both vinyl as well as CD. It reinvigorated my love for Jazz and made me want to change my entire wardrobe. I tell you this, so you know how much I care for this movie, and yet the last time I watched it I was on my phone the whole time. Why? Because I know what’s going to happen. The excitement is gone.
Sometimes it feels like this is the way we treat stories like the crucifixion. We’ve heard it so many times at church, in our own personal devotion time, or even through culture, that by this point it’s no longer exciting. We know what’s going to happen, so we no longer look up and notice what’s actually happening.
A Familiar Passage
I had this experience with the Bible recently when I was reading the passage from the Gospel of Mark, and I didn’t know what they meant by “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” I had resigned myself to a passive reading because “I’ve read this story a hundred times.” And then I was immediately pulled from my docile state and realized a powerful connection from this passage to another.
I felt like I recognized that phrasing but couldn’t place it. So, I started digging and found this passage in the Gospel of John, “The Jews then responded to him, “What 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.” (John 2:18-22 NIV)
So, while Jesus is on the cross, they start hurling insults at him and someone remembers that Jesus had made this obscure claim that he would destroy the temple and rebuild in three days, which is completely ludicrous. The temple was built by Solomon, and it took decades to finish, and he had the best of the best working on it, not just one man working for three days. Some people were offended, some laughed at how silly this man was, and someone apparently stored that information away for a later time.
But the people had missed the point. They had mistaken the meaning, and imposed their own view of religion, faith, and theology on what Jesus was saying. You see there is depth to what Jesus had said in the Gospel of John. When people insult Jesus in Mark, they say he would REBUILD the temple, whereas in John he says he will RAISE the temple. This may seem like a silly thing to point to, or maybe just an issue of semantics, but I need you to understand that the temple Jesus was referring to was himself. It wasn’t a building, but a body.
Jesus was reminding people that he was the Son of God, and for the first time ever he was letting people know a beautiful truth, that God was not contained into the four walls of the temple. God was living among us. He was with us at all time. In the Christmas story we get this cool glimpse into the changing of Christianity, in Matthew 1:23 we see “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (‘which means “God with us’)” Matt. 1:23 NIV
That was revolutionary! We didn’t have to go somewhere to find God. He came and found us. So, on the cross, as He’s being insulted, being laughed at because He said He could the raise the temple in three days, but He couldn’t even save himself, I wonder if He thought, “just wait and see.” Jesus knew when He said that He could raise the temple that He was setting a new trajectory of faith. The temple did raise in three days, it just wasn’t a building.
At this time, Jesus took what the disciples and all people would’ve known about faith, religion, at that time Judaism, and He says there’s a different way. At that time the goal of the religious people was to get other people to act differently. Psychologists call this, behavior modification, which is a fancy way of saying, changing or modifying your behavior and actions to meet the requirements of something.
When this moment is happening, and Jesus is dying on the cross, religion was all about changing your behavior. Do this, don’t do that. Pray, offer sacrifices, eat these specific foods, say these specific words, memorize scripture. Don’t eat that, don’t interact with those people, don’t go to their house. And so on and so on. Religion became a checklist of do’s, don’ts, and they believed eternity hinged on that list.
Pharisees were really good about the checklist. They had it down. They were the religious elite. They knew the scriptures backwards and forwards. They kept all the commandments of what to eat, and not to eat. What to sacrifice, and what days were holy days. They never missed a beat. And yet, Jesus often picked on them, and used them as the moral of the story.
A New Way to Have Faith
Why is that? Because they had missed the point. Faith is not about acting a certain way. It is not about wearing the right clothes, saying the right words, or being around the right people. Faith is about being in a relationship with God. It is more than just believing in God; it’s about actually trusting God with your life. It’s not about doing things because you think the checklist will get you to heaven. Faith isn’t about doing certain things, and not doing other things because you want to earn your spot. Faith is the trust you have that Jesus meant it when he said there was a better way.
Jesus was the temple, and he did rise again on the third day, and with him rose a new way to have faith. A faith that is living and active. Because of Jesus, faith as we knew is renewed and restored. Faith was no longer about doing enough, but about realizing that Jesus was enough. And Religion was no longer a checklist of do’s and don’ts that keep us from hell but was now about invitation to a better life. A fulfilled life. An Immanuel life.
On the cross, Jesus changed the dynamic of how we interact with God. He tore down the preconceived notion of what it means to worship God. He renewed what it means to be alive and be in relationship with God. God is living and breathing; still active even today. There is power in that truth. Faith was renewed through Jesus. The way that we believe, worship and trust was flipped upside down on the cross. The temple was raised in three days time. Praise God.
Immanuel God, help us to deepen our faith not in the world or our mere actions, but in you alone. May we move forward in the beauty and trust of your ever-presence.
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Hello! My name is Matthew Spear. I am a youth pastor at Chicago First Church of the Nazarene, and I’m currently working on earning my MDiv at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary.