Second post: Torah Observant Movement pt: 1, Jesus and the Torah and God’s people

Some preliminary points about the temple:

1. Temple and royalty belonged closely together. When David was establishing his rule, one key move (at least in retrospect) was his bringing of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, and his consequent planning of the Temple. (Sam. 6–7; 1 Chron. 21–2, 28–9; cf. e.g. Ps. 132.). When Solomon built the Temple, he established the pattern that would remain true for all subsequent generations up to and including the first century: the temple-builder was the true king, and vice versa.
2. The symbolism of the Temple was designed to express the belief that it formed the center not only of the physical world but also of the entire cosmos, so that, in being YHWH’s dwelling-place, it was the spot where heaven and earth met.
3. The destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians was a catastrophe at every level, theological as well as political. It could only be explained in terms of YHWH’s having abandoned the temple to its fate. the glory, the Shekinah, had departed; (Ezek. 10:1–22; 11:22f), the Davidic monarchy had been cast aside; (Ps. 89:38–51.) heaven and earth had been pulled apart, so that worship became impossible. (Ps. 137:4–6; cf. Ps. 80:14–19.)1
One of the chief gains of the last twenty years of Jesus-research is that the question of Jesus and the Temple is back where it belongs, at the centre of the agenda. Apart from one or two dissident voices, almost all scholars now writing in the field agree on two basic points: Jesus performed a dramatic action in the Temple, and this action was one of the main reasons for his execution. But at this point agreement stops, and questions begin. What precisely did Jesus do in the Temple? Why did he do it? More precisely, what did he intend both to symbolize and to accomplish by it? In what way was this action a (or the) cause of his death? Did he foresee this consequence, and, if so, did he go ahead with the action despite it or because of it?” (Wright, 205, JVG).

The question of Jesus’s actions toward the temple is huge. Before diving in we must look at what other significant practices Jesus reinterpreted around himself to get a full picture of what is going on and precisely what Jesus’s agenda is.

First consider the passover: The final passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples points also to the radical way in which the story of Israel is being retold around Jesus and his ministry. For centuries Jews came together to celebrate the exodus out of Israel. When they came together they would say “this is the blood of the lamb that was put over our doorposts, by which we were delivered out from Egypt.” Then they would say “this bread is the lamb that our fathers ate before they started on their great journey through the red sea the promised land.” This celebration was something that happened at the Jerusalem temple and was steeped in God’s covenant people’s identity; something they had done every year for over a thousand years. Imagine the shock when Jesus says “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” The story of the passover is being retold around Jesus, and the bread and wine are now given new, indeed greater, significance.

Second, consider Jesus declaring all foods clean: Mark: 7:19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

The pharisees came and tried to push on Jesus the tradition of the elders which was not derived from the law. And so they watch Jesus to catch him and disciples to accuse him.

Later, and very significantly, Jesus tells a parable (v. 17), and the disciples don’t quite understand it. So, Jesus clarifies and says that what a person eats cannot defile him because its what comes out of the mouth that defiles a man, not what goes into it. And, Mark, the inspired writer, to make sure that no one misses the significance of what Jesus has just spoken, says “thus Jesus declared all foods clean.” Now, many people will come back and say that this is “just in parentheses,” or some other jazz. The fact is, Mark knew that people, especially of the Jewish sort, would not catch the significance of Jesus’s statement. And strictly speaking, Everything in the gospel of Mark is written by Mark, including the words ascribed to Jesus. If Mark is inspired when he says “Jesus spoke this” then he is also inspired when he tells the reader what those words mean.

Healing, forgiveness, renewal, the twelve, the new family and its new defining characteristics, the promise of blessing for the Gentiles, feasts replacing fasts, the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple: all declared, in the powerful language of symbol, that Israel’s exile was over, that Jesus was himself in some way responsible for this new state of affairs, and that all that the Temple had stood for was now available through Jesus and his movement. (This is partly what it means to destroy the temple.)

Jesus was not lightly setting Torah aside, as a false prophet urging people to abandon their ancient loyalties and embrace new ones (though that was clearly how he risked being seen, and how some actually did see him). Nor was he blaspheming against Moses, an offense which according to Josephus could have carried the death penalty; though, again, some of what he said might have been interpreted in that way. He was claiming, once more, to be inaugurating the new age in Israel’s history, to which the Mosaic law pointed but for which it was not adequate. Paul explicitly interprets Jesus’s life and ministry in this way as seen in 2 Cor. 3:7-12. Jesus intended the destruction of the temple to put in its place a better, but different, temple; namely, himself. (as I will argue later, Jesus’s pronouncement of judgment is itself the first step of its destruction.)

In the next section we are going to look at two things: Jesus’s foretelling of the temple’s destruction, the warnings that Israel had to repent with the caution that if they failed to impending judgement is awaiting them. And also, the radical nature of the ministry of John the Baptist will be considered. For us in the 21st century the words that John the Baptist uttered do not carry the shocking force they would have in the 1st century.

Here is a quote from N. T. Wright about John’s ministry:

John the Baptist’s activity was, clearly, ‘political’ as well as ‘religious’, partly in that Herod Antipas may well have been a prime target of John’s invective,62 but also because anyone collecting people in the Jordan wilderness was symbolically saying: this is the new exodus. Anybody offering water-baptism for the forgiveness of sins was saying: you can have, here and now, what you would normally get through the Temple.63 Anybody inviting those who wished to do so to pass through an initiatory rite of this kind was symbolically saying: here is the true Israel that is to be vindicated by YHWH. By implication, those who did not join in had forfeited the right to be regarded as the covenant people. In these ways, completely credibly within the history of first-century Judaism, what John was doing must be seen, and can only be seen, as a prophetic renewal movement within Judaism—a renewal, however, that aimed not at renewing the existing structures, but at replacing them. (Wright, JVG, 160).

This is what paved the way for Israel’s Messiah. This is where we will pick it up in the next post.

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