Jesus Christ, The Temple, And Passover

[Note: This is the prepared text for a Bible study given to the Portland UCG congregation on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.]

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the temple for the ministry of Jesus Christ as well as for the fate of the early Church of God. It is hard for us to understand how this is the case looking back from nearly 2000 years of history in which there has not been a temple to God in Jerusalem. The Temple was the place where believers gathered three seasons a year for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles, and it is unsurprising that Jesus Christ should be found to have been in the Temple at all of these places. Even though Jesus’ ministry was mostly based in the area in and around the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of what is now part of the nation of Israel, a substantial portion of the Gospels discusses those occasions where Jesus Christ along with others was present and active within the Temple grounds. The study of Jesus’ actions in the temple and of the relevance of the temple to the early Church of God, and its lessons for us, is a message far beyond the scope of a single Bible study like this one. It is sufficient for today to discuss the relationship between Jesus Christ, the Temple, and Passover, and that we will do.

In discussing this relationship, I think it is important to note at the beginning the scope of this particular discussion. Our main focus today will be on those incidents in the Bible that take place at or around the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread at the Temple during Jesus Christ’s earthly life. It should be noted that this does not even come close to exhausting the many places in the Gospels and in Acts, and elsewhere, where the temple serves as an important context in Jesus Christ’s life and mission. Especially as we reach the end of this study and look at the death of Jesus Christ as our Passover sacrifice, the fact that the temple was the central place of worship where God had set His name is something that will become increasingly important in understanding what Jesus Christ did when He allowed Himself to be put to death despite having no fault to pay the price for our sins.

The first occasion in the Bible that shows Jesus Christ in the temple during the springtime of the year is an incident that occurred when Jesus Christ was twelve years. I have spoken about this particular incident and its relevance before [1], but not to this congregation, and so it is worth discussing this incident and its timing and significance. In understanding the relevance of the temple to this story, it is worthwhile for us to place ourselves in the perspective of the various people involved, namely Jesus Christ, the priests at the temple, and Mary and Joseph, all of whom had very different ideas of what this particular incident meant. We read of this particular incident in Luke 2:41-52. Luke 2:41-52 reads: “His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.  And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.  When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances.  So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.  Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.  So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”  But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Let’s start examining this story from the point of view of Jesus’ parents. After the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, they expected to meet up with their preteen son, who they supposed to be in the party of friends, relatives, and neighbors who were returning to Galilee. However, they did not find Him among their party after it had went a day’s journey. They did not, of course, see Him upon making the second day’s journey back to Jerusalem, and it was not until after he had been missing for three days when they saw Him in the temple sitting among the teachers asking questions and listening to them. Anyone who is a parent, or who can imagine how a parent would feel could see that having lost their son for three days would be a terribly anxious experience for Mary and Joseph. We might well imagine that Jesus Christ was a good kid, more or less, not prone to try to run away from home, and while they were no doubt relieved to find him entirely safe and sound, their relief was quickly replaced with puzzlement when He talked about being about His Father’s business, something they did not understand at all, before He returned home with them and was subject to their authority.

We may next look at this particular incident through the eyes of the teachers and leaders of Judah at the temple. If you have ever had the experience teaching young people about the Bible, you may well understand how enjoyable it is to sit with a serious-minded young person and talk about various matters of faith and doctrine and practice to someone who really gets it and who is knowledgeable far beyond their years, as was definitely the case with Jesus Christ. It is easy to imagine how hours and days could go by of teaching and instruction where these teachers were extremely impressed with Jesus Christ and found Him to be a very precocious and smart young whipper-snapper, and one sees no difficulty in these learned and wise men opening up their houses for Him so that He could spend the night and sharing meals with him as the conversation went on and on long into the night, as tends to happen when people talk with each other in deep conversations about spiritual matters.

Jesus’ perspective is the most complex of them all. I do not know how many of you are familiar with the television show Undercover Boss, but it is a series that has run for more than a decade and the premise of the show is that an executive takes a low-paying job within his or her own company to see how it is that the company operates. The entirety of Jesus’ life on earth can be considered to be an extended and the most extreme version possible of Undercover Boss where the Creator and Lord of all Creation stepped away from the kingdom of heaven for a period of more than thirty years to come as a servant of no reputation to see how things were going on among His people on earth. While the teachers appear to have been very impressed with Jesus Christ, we can infer from this passage and its context in the Bible that He was not nearly as impressed with them. As it happens, the age of responsibility, when people could be punished as an adult within Jewish society, occurred at the age of thirteen for boys and at the age of puberty for girls, often assumed at the time to be the age of twelve, and so Jesus’ trip to the temple to test out the leadership of the Jews occurred just before the time when Jesus could be held responsible for some of his statements. His insight and wisdom about the state of the religious establishment of the time can be measured by the fact that this story of Jesus Christ at the temple at the time of the Spring Holy Days is the only story about Jesus that we have in the Bible between his early childhood and the age of thirty. For the next seventeen and a half years after this visit to the temple and these several days of serious and probing conversations about religious matters, the Bible is entirely silent about Jesus Christ and his conduct except to say that He grew in stature with both God and men during this time. In fact, this silence has been so troubling that there are stories of Jesus spending years entirely away from Judah in the remote tin mines of Cornwall, the better to stay alive and stay out of trouble with the corrupt Jewish establishment until Jesus came of age and could begin His ministry at the age of 30.

The second biblical incidents related to the Passover and the temple is the story of the cleansing of the temple told in all four Gospels. The way that the story is told and the placement of that story within the Gospel of John suggest that there may be two such events that occurred one at the beginning and one at the end of Jesus public ministry. Let us therefore turn our attention to John 2:13-25. This is the second half of the chapter of John 2, and it gives some interesting details about what Jesus did in addition to cleansing the temple from the corrupt business that was taking place within it. John 2:13-25 reads: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.  When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.  Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.  But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”

We noted when we discussed the cleansing of the temple before the Passover where Jesus Christ was crucified this past Sabbath in the sermonette [2] that there were two sorts of ways that the Jewish leadership in charge of the temple behaved corruptly and turned what should have been a house of prayer for all nations into a den of thieves. The first way was that the temple refused to accept the common currency of the land and forced believers at the Temple to change their money into the Temple shekel, which was changed at an official exchange rate that profited the temple and that shortchanged the believer. The second way, which we also see here, was that the priests would not accept the animals brought by the believers to sacrifice, invariably finding some sort of blemish in them, and therefore requiring believers to purchase, at a suitably expensive markup, sacrificial animals that had been raised under the control of those same priests and thus served to profit them. Jesus, though, was having none of it. What Jesus saw in the Temple is something that is not unfamiliar to us when we look at the way that religion has been made into a big business where various churches and ministries make merchandise of the Gospel and seek to profit off of what God has freely given in scripture. And Jesus’ response is instructive to us as well, in that He made a whip of cords, overturned the table where the corrupt business was going on, and drove the various profiteers and their animals out of the temple.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus Christ had authority to act in such a way that we do not. Jesus Christ was God in the flesh, and we are not. He was the being who was worshiped and praised and prayed to in that temple, the one who the temple and all that was within it belonged to, the boss of all of the priests whose corrupt dealings brought His name and His reputation into dishonor and made it a burden for people to seek to obey God in that place. He had every right to overturn tables and drive out those who were making merchandise of His house. Zeal for His father’s house was eating Him up and it is not hard at all to understand why. This particular story is instructive in other ways, though, in that it reminds us of the pitfalls that have always threatened any institution where God seeks to bring believers together. Wherever God seeks to build up institutions to serve His people, be it the family, or ancient Israel, or civil governments in general, or the priesthood of the temple or the ministry within the Church, those institutions have always been preyed upon by those who sought to corrupt those institutions to serving their own selfish interests. Lacking a fear and respect for God and His ways or a heart of service towards His people, these men have sought to turn God’s institutions into ways for them to gratify their own selfish egos and their own greed by acquiring titles to give honor to those without honor, and a high and expensive living that they could not gain any other way through honest means. This is what was going on in the temple, and some of us have seen personally just how such a thing has happened in various churches when those who should have been serving God and His people instead have used the Church to serve themselves. It is hard to believe that God’s feelings about such matters has changed a bit from His feelings expressed here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jesus was asked for a sign as to the nature of the authority by which He did these things, namely chasing out the corrupt moneychangers and merchandisers within His house. What He said was that He would build up the temple, namely His own body, that was destroyed within three days. The people who heard this comment misunderstood him, of course, to believe that He was speaking about the physical temple building, which would be destroyed and not only not rebuild in three days, but not rebuild for a period of more than nineteen centuries to the present day. It should be remembered, of course, that Jesus Christ spoke on numerous occasions of the three days and three nights as a sign of His authority to determine who had a legitimate place within the temple and who did not. It is worthwhile for us to remember the importance of three days and three nights to an understanding of the timing of the Passover as well as its larger relationship with matters of the Bible and judgment. Let us, for example, turn to Matthew 12:38-42. This passage is perhaps the most familiar one that gives the sign of three days and three nights, and let us note that it parallels what Jesus Christ says in John 2 as we have read above. Matthew 12:38-42 reads: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.”

It is very telling that Jesus Christ compared Himself and His ministry to that of Jonah. While Jonah is widely viewed as a particularly disobedient prophet, Jesus Christ was perfectly obedient. While Jonah attempted to flee the opposite direction from where He was called to preach, Jesus Christ went where He was commanded even though the stress of it made him sweat blood when reflecting on what it would cost to do so. While Jonah wanted to see Nineveh destroyed and was distraught over its repentance, Jesus Christ longed for the repentance of Jerusalem and the other cities He preached in and was distressed by their persistent unwillingness to repent and avoid the judgment that was coming to them. While Jonah was sent to unbelieving Nineveh and the mighty and arrogant Assyrian empire, Jesus Christ was sent to preach to Jews who were in bondage to Rome and who viewed themselves as believing and obedient to God when they were not. In many ways, Jesus Christ and Jonah were diametrically opposed to each other as prophets, and yet there were some striking similarities as well. For one, both came from the region of Galilee. And for another, both spent three days and three nights in the depths. It is remarkable that Jesus Christ would affirm the historicity of Jonah by pointing to the same sign in His own ministry as being the way that He would demonstrate His authority over death as well as over the religious practices of His time and all time.

Before we leave the account of the cleansing of the temple, let us look again at the account in Matthew, which we read this past Sabbath, in Matthew 21:12-17. Let us bring something to attention that we did not have time to discuss previously that relates to the relationship that Jesus had with the priests. Matthew 21:12-17 reads: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.  And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.  But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.”

It is important for us to remember that the chief priests and scribes were, whether they realized it or not, His servants, and their worship practices were meant to serve Him and bring glory to Him and, related to that, to serve the well-being of others. Their attitude towards the miracles of healing of the blind and of the lame should have been one of rejoicing. They should have celebrated the fact that those who were disabled were being healed. I would think that most of us would celebrate such things, for a variety of motives. And, let us not forget, Jesus Christ was one of the owners of the temple. And yet the attitude of the priests and scribes was not one of praise that healing was taking place on the temple grounds, thus bringing joy to God’s house, but rather irritation that this Jesus fellow was interfering with their turf. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time discussed here were simply unable to understand that the entire earth was God’s turf and that their purpose was to serve Him and not serve themselves, and that was a lesson that they persistently refused to learn. Let us hope that we do not find the lesson to difficult ourselves.

The third incident, or rather set of incidents, related to the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread comes during the course of the Olivet Prophecy. The Mount of Olives is just east of the Old City of Jerusalem, and if you go to this mountain you can look onto the Temple Mount just across the Kidron Valley. While on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had some pointed things to say about the view of the temple by the Jewish leadership of the time. Let us take this up in Matthew 23:16-22. In the midst of his denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus has a lot to say about how important the temple was to Him in ways that we do not often stop to consider in detail. Matthew 23:16-22 reads: ““Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’  Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’  Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?  Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it.  He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it.  And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.”

It is not immediately obvious to many readers why the Scribes and the Pharisees viewed swearing by the gold of the temple as being a more binding than swearing on the temple itself. During the time of Jesus’ ministry the Jewish community was deeply divided, as it often has been, by serious disagreements in terms of authority. The Sadducees were priestly elites in charge of the temple worship, and we have already noted their own corruption and how harshly Jesus Christ viewed this corruption. On the other side of the picture, though, the scribes and Pharisees had for centuries sought to usurp the teaching responsibilities of the priests and Levites for themselves and had sought to secularize the elaborate cleansing rituals of the temple as an ordinary way of life for those who followed their traditions. As is often the case, the Pharisee’s behavior in seeking to encourage all who followed their interpretations and traditions to think of themselves as a priesthood of all believers had the practical effect of diminishing the respect and honor that the temple and altar were held by many Jews. Jesus, though, for all of his intense criticism of the corrupt priestly elite who ruled over the temple establishment, recognized that the temple and its worship system was in place to honor Him, and he notes that those who swear by the altar swear by its sacrifices, and those who swear by the temple swear by it and by God, who dwelled in the temple. For Jesus Christ, there was no getting around the obligations of one’s oaths by making impressive sounding promises with loopholes that negated the performance of those oaths. And it is telling that He uses the temple as a way to make this point plain.

Continuing on in this passage, Jesus Christ brings up the temple again to point out an aspect of biblical history that was also a symbolic prophecy that later came to pass during the time when the temple was about to be destroyed. In Matthew 23:29-36, the temple and its history are used to give a lesson about the violent hostility of the Jewish leadership of the scribes and Pharisees to the prophetic message that He and others had brought to them. Matthew 23:29-36 reads: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.  Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?  Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.  Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

In harsh language that brings to mind John the Baptist’s calling of these same leaders by the same language, associating them with the children of serpents, thus tying them to their father Satan the Devil, Jesus Christ brings up the matter of how it was that one generation of people killed the prophets and the following generations built and adorned fancy tombs for those prophets whom their fathers had killed. This is a strange historical phenomenon, and something we see in our own time when it comes to making historical museums out of slave forts and concentration camps and other places where great violence has taken place, where we preserve the place of historical horrors and try to tell ourselves that we are somehow more moral and decent people than those generations who came before us. Jesus Christ reminded his audience that they were not more righteous than their forefathers, and that the violence that had been committed against the godly for generations would come upon the generation that listened to him and that rejected God’s authority. And so it would be, around 40 years later, when the Jews fought and killed each other over control of the Temple before the Romans destroyed the temple altogether. In light of this prophesied horror, Jesus continues this passage with a lament in verses 37 through 39: ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ “

Nor is this the end of Jesus’ discussion of the temple during this particular message. If we continue on to read the first two verses of Matthew 24, we will see that the temple was still on Jesus’ mind, and He still had some pointed things to say about it. Matthew 24:1-2 reads: “Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”” Here Jesus turns his pointed comments at the temple to the disciples in a way that we ought to be able to recognize for ourselves. Those of us who have traveled to other areas and countries and seen gorgeous buildings can understand the praise that the disciples gave for the beauty and the glory of Herod’s temple. Yet Jesus Christ had just mentioned what would happen to this temple, and He reminded His disciples that this beautiful building would not stand because the wickedness and corruption of those who presided over the temple had brought judgment upon what should have been a house of prayer for all peoples. What Jesus Christ prophesied came to pass, and not one stone of that temple was left to stand on top of another. It would not be for another 1900 years after the temple’s destruction for archaeologists in the big dig to clean off the area around the temple mount so that the glory of the stairwells could be seen, much less the glory of the building itself.

This is the sort of issue that it is easy for many of us to stumble in when it comes to praising the physical glory of buildings and not paying enough attention to the moral spirit of the institutions that build those buildings. There are many people today who are alive and who remember very well the glories of the Ambassador College campuses in Pasadena, Big Sandy, and Bricket Wood. A great deal of effort went into buying mansions and constructing buildings like the Ambassador Auditorium, and into choosing the materials of those buildings as the people who did so sought to glorify God in such a way as would be obvious to others. Yet when that church was led by people who paid no regard to God’s laws, those leaders did not long enjoy the glorious surroundings that they had inherited from those who came before them. As was the case with the temple, an institution that had desired to bring believers in unity with each other under the same roof and under the same authority was broken, leaving believers to be scattered to the four winds. As has repeatedly been the case throughout history, God will not allow institutions that cease to follow His ways to remain united and whole, but whether we are talking about the kingdom of Israel that had risen to glory under David and Solomon, the temple and its worship system, or the Church of God, those institutions that do not serve God and His people will be broken and the people who those institutions sought to bring under their control will be scattered until such a time as institutions can be rebuilt once again under more godly leaders.

The fourth and final set of incidents that connects Jesus Christ’s earthly life and ministry to the temple and its worship system relates to the symbolism of His death. These are passages that should be very familiar to us, but while we will recount these passages and others as we prepare for the Passover, it is worthwhile for us today to focus on those elements of the context of Jesus’ sacrifice insofar as it relates to the temple itself. And there are at least two aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion that bear on the temple and its worship. Both of these occur in Matthew 27. In Matthew 27:3-10, we see the temple as the location of a confrontation between Judas and the priestly leaders who had paid him thirty pieces of silver to betray his Lord and Master. Matthew 27:3-10 reads: “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What is that to us? You see to it!” Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself. But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.”  And they consulted together and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.  Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.””

It is difficult to do justice to the level of hypocrisy that was present among the leaders of the temple who did not believe that it was wrong to pay a man to betray him to the cruel sentence of scourging and then crucifixion but was over-scrupulous about accepting refunds for the wages of evil. Here we see yet again why it was that God did not allow the temple to remain, because the people who ruled over the temple were so bent on evil and so unable to come to grips with God’s disapproval of their corruption that they paid money from the treasury funds of the temple to pay a corrupt traitor in Judas to bring the only innocent Man who has ever lived into their grasp to be put on a series of illegal trials and put to death through political machinations and the cowardice of the Roman governor but yet could not bear to taint the gold of the temple through accepting money back that had been spent for evil purposes. Perhaps if the priests of Jesus’ time had shown as much scrupulous concern for the state of their own spiritual lives or for the judgment on Judah that came about in part because of their wickedness, much would have been different. But as is often the case, God uses the wickedness of corrupt human rulers for His own purposes, including frequently to bring those leaders and the people they lead into judgment.

It is also worthwhile to note an important aspect of symbolism relating to Jesus’ sacrifice that we understand when we combine what the scripture says with what we know from Jewish history and tradition. In Matthew 27:45-50 we see the timing of Jesus’ death and the way in which Jesus’ death in several ways mirrored the plagues that had originally troubled Egypt during the time of the Exodus. Matthew 27:45-50 reads: Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.  And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”  Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.” Let us note, for one, that this scene reminds us of the last two plagues of Egypt, in that the period where Jesus neared death was marked by darkness like the darkness that fell over the land of Egypt when that nation was under judgment. Similarly, the tenth and final plague of Egypt took the firstborn of Egypt, whereas on the Passover of Jesus’ death God gave His firstborn Son to pay the price of sin and death for those who were called and chosen and who walked in obedience to Him.

According to the Mishnah, specifically Pesachim 5, the ninth hour when Jesus Christ gave up His spirit was precisely the time when the lambs were slaughtered for the Passover. We had a recent sermon from Mr. Reeves which discussed the way that the Jewish seder is kept at the end of the fourteenth instead of at the beginning of the fourteenth as the Bible commands, but even where people do not follow God’s instructions, as was the case here, there is still a striking symbolism to be found. While the Pharisees were preparing to celebrate the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, having sacrificed their Passover lambs a day late, the real Passover lamb was being sacrificed in Jerusalem to deliver believers from slavery to sin. It was, unfortunately, a symbolism that appeared to escape many of the people in Jerusalem at the time, but it is a symbolism that we should not fail to keep in mind ourselves.

Finally, we come to one last aspect of symbolism that has often been commented on when we come to the Passover, which we find in Matthew 27:51-53. Matthew 27:51-53 reads: “Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” For those who know something about the veil in the temple, it divided the holy place, where the priests ministered to God at the altar of incense and the table of showbread, and the most holy place, also known as the Holy of Holies, where the high priest alone was allowed to go once per year on the Day of Atonement after having sacrificed for the sins of himself, his family, and the people of God as a whole. The ripping of the veil from top to bottom was a demonstration that God had removed the veil of separation between God and mankind.

The consequences of this are discussed elsewhere in scripture. Perhaps most eloquently, the lack of separation between God and man and its consequences for our prayer and spiritual life is discussed in Hebrews 4:11-16. After discussing the symbolism of rest in several aspects and affirming the continuing importance of the Sabbath for believers at the beginning of the chapter, the author of Hebrews discusses the result of the lack of separation between God and man for believers in a way that mirrors both the pleasant and unpleasant aspects of intimacy with God. As it is written in Hebrews 4:11-16: “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Here we see that the tearing of the veil between God and man brings us into greater awareness of how we are to be held accountable by God for how we live. This is not always a pleasant matter, as most of us are aware of how we fall short of the divine standard of perfection in our conduct. That said, the passage ends graciously with a reminder that Jesus Christ is sympathetic towards our struggles, having been tempted as we are, without sin, and is available for us to come to Him boldly to obtain mercy and grace, which we all need in such pitiless and graceless times as our own.

It is worth noting here as well that the separation that existed between God and Israel up to the point where the veil was torn was not the choice of God. God had always desired intimacy with believers. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve and they hid from him after having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. He spoke with Abraham face to face and considered that godly patriarch to be a friend. He wrestled with Jacob, who would not let Him go until he was given a blessing. And He delivered Israel from slavery, fed them and protected them on the long journey to Mount Sinai, and sought to bind them to him in a covenantal marriage. But Exodus 20:18-21 reminds us that Israel did not want to be close to God but wanted Moses (and the priests) to serve as intermediaries between God and themselves to separate themselves from being close to a God whom they viewed with terror. Exodus 20:18-21, right after the ten commandments are given, reads as follows: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.  Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.”  So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” When the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, God was telling His people that He would no longer be separate from them, but would come to have an intimate place in their lives through the giving of the Holy Spirit. Though Israel had rejected being close to Him, those who follow God would eventually be brought near to God, both to be held accountable as well as to recognize the passionate love that God has always had for His sons and daughters. But that is a story for another day.

Let us now conclude this study with a summary of what we have discussed about the relationship between Jesus Christ, the Temple, and Passover. We have seen that there are at least four incidents that connect Jesus to the temple during the time of Passover. First, we have Jesus’ undercover visit to the temple as a twelve year old to test the leaders and teachers of Jerusalem shortly before becoming an adult. After that we have the cleansing of the temple, whether there was one of them or two, where Jesus Christ threw out the corrupt merchants and moneychangers who were turning His house of prayer into a den of thieves. Third, we have the Olivet prophecy and its criticism of the way that the temple was viewed by people as being an attractive tourist spot or a place whose gold made an oath mandatory to obey. Finally, we have the corruption of the priests in their unwillingness to accept a refund on the wages of sin, the symbolism of Jesus’ sacrifice in the slaughter of the Passover lambs at the ninth hour, and the tearing of the veil of the temple to bring mankind into an intimate and personal relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

Throughout this entire journey, we have seen that the temple has been both the place where the worship of God took place, and thus was a place that drew Jesus Christ, His disciples, and many others into the worship system of the time. We have seen that the concentration of believers together as well as their offerings, drew the attention of corrupt authorities who sought to enrich themselves from the godly service that believers engaged in, and that this corruption and wickedness brought divine judgment and eventually the destruction of the temple. The temple thus not only symbolizes the body of Christ and the community of believers, but any institution that seeks to unify believers together under central authority. Where those institutions become corrupt, God acts to break apart that unity among the believers, as sheep naturally scatter in the absence of loving shepherds to guide them. Similarly, Jesus Christ’s role as the perfect and spotless Passover lamb meant that He would be intimately involved in the symbolism of the Passover and that the temple, as the place where God was worshipped at the time, would be an important place as a context for that symbolism. Knowing this, therefore, let us reflect on the course of our own lives, and let us examine ourselves as we approach the coming Passover, making sure that we are not filled with the self-serving and corrupt attitude that filled the leaders of Jesus’ day and that brought judgment upon themselves and the people of Judah as a whole. For, like the people of Jesus’ day, we live in a time of great corruption and evil, and the threat of judgment hangs over us just as it did them. May we be counted worthy to escape that judgment and enter safely into the kingdom of heaven as His resurrected and redeemed sons and daughters.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

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3 Responses to Jesus Christ, The Temple, And Passover

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Christ’s use of remez during the two instances of turning the tables and routing the moneychangers in the temple were a special source of discomfort to the rulers and priests because they knew that the common people understood exactly what He was saying.

    Also, the destruction of the temple as “not one stone left upon another” has such deep meaning. Christ referred to Peter as a stone and Himself a Rock upon which the Church would be built. As a “stone”, God raised man from the earth when He created him. We are also referred to as a temple of God. When Christ made this pronouncement, He was relegating the physical temple to that of the walls of Jericho, whose walls fell outward and flat. When a “stone” doesn’t protrude from the ground, it is symbolic of man’s never having been created. Therefore, this temple, a literal place of Jewish government and worship, was deemed to be nothing more than a dwelling place for uncircumcised heathens–doomed to being wiped from the “face” of the earth, just like the nose from a man’s face (no flat-nosed man could approach the sacrificial altar). The temple was to become as though it had never existed. This event ridded the land of the final residue and evidence of the original covenant made with a rebellious physical Israel, which gave way to the spiritual one with a compliant Godly Bride.

  2. Pingback: Pentecost And The Longing Of God | Edge Induced Cohesion

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