Casting Out, Raising Up

My text this week is John 2:13-25. My slightly altered translation reads:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he cast all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house an emporium!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you demonstrate to us for these things you do?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 Yet, for his part, Jesus did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about human nature; for he himself knew what was in the human heart.

Just a couple of notes before we dig in. One, we know we have trouble with understanding how to translate the phrase “the Jews” (ton Ioudaion) in verse 13. Literally, yes, John says “the Judeans” which is normally rendered “the Jews.” Much ink has been spilled on what this phrase suggests about the relationship between John’s community and the larger Jewish community surrounding them. However, as someone who as actually preached with Jewish brothers and sisters sitting in the audience, I have always cringed when reading this line. Remember: Jesus, himself, was a Jew, and had come to Jerusalem and the Temple as part of his celebration of Passover. We ought to tread very carefully here so that we don’t fall into the error of replacement/supersessionist theology for fear of Paul’s warning in Romans 11: 21: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you.”

Instead, I suggest we celebrate with Paul that

29  …the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. 32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.    -Romans 11:29-32

Accordingly, we might take the suggestion of D. Mark Davis, borrowing from Richard Horsley, that we render the term “the Jews” as “the Judeans.” The idea here is that “Judeans” connotes the religious understanding of Jewishness found in Jerusalem and its zealously guarded Temple traditions as opposed to other expressions of Judaism. However, I don’t know how helpful this is in light of the fact that Jerusalem drew in Jewish people from around the world who saw Temple observance as critical to their religious identity. Even Jesus himself, a Temple “outsider” from Galilee, came to observe the Passover in Jerusalem, suggesting that Temple observance was important to him.

Instead, maybe we ought to think about simply rendering this as John delivers it (the Passover of the Jews), but taking a moment to reinforce Jesus’ own Jewish identity as he, himself, is part of the drama that is unfolding. Indeed, John tells us in light of Psalm 69:9 that it was zealousness for God’s house that drove Jesus’ reaction. Thus, John’s rendering of “the Jews” isn’t anti-Semitic or supersessionist. Instead, this episode shows Jesus striving for both faithfulness to God’s commands, as well as an illustration of the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises in his very person.

The second thing I would draw your attention to is my rendering of verse 25. I translate it as: “and needed no one to testify about human nature; for he himself knew what was in the human heart.” Reading the original Greek, it is clear that I have taken an interpretive leap here. John actually wrote “and needed no one to testify about the man (tou anthropou); for he himself knew what was in the the man (to anthropo).” The issue is that John switches from Jesus not trusting “them” (plural) because he knew all of them in verse 24 to Jesus not needing testimony about “the man” (singular) because he knew what was in “the man” (singular).

Some have suggested that Judas might be read into the singular noun “man,” but I don’t think there is much textual evidence to support it. Alternatively, you might read this singular rendering of “the man” as “the human being.” I think this is pretty close to what John is getting at. Jesus doesn’t trust the crowds who have jumped on his bandwagon because he knows the inherent weakness of “the human being,” thus he needs no testimony about us because he knows all about us. In this instance, we have the universal condition of our fallen humanity summed up in the commonality of our all too human tendency to be taken with signs and wonders, but to fall astray when the going gets tough. Given this, I have taken liberty with the translation, rendering it as “human nature” and the “human heart” to make plain the point of John’s rendering.

You may also note here that I have included verses 24 and 25 in the passage that the lectionary normally cuts off at verse 23. I have done this because I often tire of the selective editing of the lectionary, and because these two verses help make the point about what Jesus is doing here as it relates to our translation of “the Jews.” Jesus isn’t anti-Temple, and his actions aren’t aimed at doing away with the Law of Moses. In fact, as Christians we would do well to attempt to better understand the role of the Temple in first-century Judaism so as to understand Jesus, his disciples, and Paul better.

The problem that Jesus is addressing here isn’t that God wants to do away with the Temple because God came up with the better idea of abolishing it and setting up shop in our hearts through the work of the Spirit. The problem is our fallen nature that takes the goodness of God tabernacling with us as shown in the Temple and distorts it, using it for our own sordid gain and expressions of power and control. What the tent of meeting, the tabernacle in the wilderness, and eventually the Temple itself attempted to do was have God dwell in our midst, preparing us — sanctifying us — for the day in which the human heart itself would become the residence of the Most High. Our failing in holiness while God resided in our midst results in exile that eventually leads to restoration and the establishment of God’s renewed covenant relationship written on the tablet of our hearts, serving as the new Temple, or dwelling place of the Most High.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 makes this plan plain:

31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

The prophet Ezekiel makes a similar move in 36:25-28:

25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 

As Jesus makes plain in the Temple, the day Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of had arrived, and the Law of God given to Israel, carried out in the ordinances, and given a locale by God’s presence in the Temple has now come in the flesh, God’s very Word written on the tablet of a human heart. It isn’t that the Temple is to be replaced. No. Rather, the former things have pointed to the greater, and what is revealed in Jesus isn’t a supersession of Judaism by Christianity, but a fulfillment of the covenant promises of God to Israel in the very flesh of Jesus. And by his resurrection power, this same presence of the Spirit of God that once dwelled in the the Temple now fully dwells in Christ and will take residence up in God’s covenant people through Christ. This vision, I feel, makes room for both Jew, first, and also by God’s grace, Gentile.

With this established, my next post looks at the rest of the text.

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