Jesus, The Torah, and God’s People: Torah Observant Movement Pt 2

Jesus’s pronouncement of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple is a key to understanding his earthly ministry. In Matthew 24 Jesus’s disciples ask him when the temple will be destroyed, and his reply is that “this generation” (24:34) will not pass until all that Jesus had predicted came to pass. Within a generation (app. 40 years) the temple was destroyed by Rome. Jesus, here in Matt. 24, connects “the sign of his coming” with the destruction of the temple. The coming of the Son of man is a clear allusion to Daniel 7; which speaks of the vindication of the Son of Man. In good apocalyptic style, all sorts of imagery is used by Jesus to invest these future historic events with theological significance. If we accept that the conversation is centered around the “sign of Jesus’s coming” and the “time of the temple’s destruction,” then we are in a pretty safe place to understand that Jesus is explicitly putting the sign of his coming (Gr. erchomenon) together with to the fate of the temple; so that, if the fate of the temple turns out to be what Jesus said it would be, then Jesus will be vindicated in his ministry and prophetic role. In support of this: the words “this generation” refer to the current contemporary generation in every other instance that it is used; it always refers to the people who are living at that time. Jesus says that everything that he had predicted before 24:34 would happen in “this generation.”

The gospel of Luke has an interesting section in chapter 19. In verses 41-44 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces judgement on her, and the temple (same as Matt. 24 but much shorter). Immediately after in 45-48 Jesus cleanses the temple. There can be no doubt that the cleansing of the temple and the pronouncement of judgement in the preceding verse are inseparably linked to one another. I think Jesus is acting out the judgement that is to come; and expressing his disapproval at what the temple had become. Many people see this action, and Jesus’s statements about the temple, whether they were misunderstood or not, as the primary factors that led to his crucifixion. Notably, this is what is brought up at Jesus’s trial; and also, when people are preaching the gospel in Acts 6, Jesus is portrayed as the one who talked about the temple being destroyed.

If we go back to John 2:19: The Jews ask Jesus by what authority he is doing what he is doing (cleansing); and they want proof, a sign, that Jesus does in fact have the authority to do what he did; namely to cleanse the temple. He tells them the sign that he has this authority is this: if they destroy “this temple,” which I am arguing is the temple that he just cleansed, that he would raise the temple (His body, which is replacing the temple) up in three days. When he says he will raise it up in three days, this is, as I plan to get into, Jesus putting himself in the place of the temple in the ongoing life of God’s covenant people. This is significant because his body is referred by Christ as “the temple” and it is referred to as the equivalent. [Some think Jesus is referring to his body, as “this temple” in both halves: destroy this temple (my body) and I will raise it up (my body). I think his body is in the last half of the verse: destroy this temple (that I just cleansed) and in three days I will raise this temple (my body).] In either case, the pharisees, disciples, and everyone listening had no idea that he was talking about his body; they thought he was speaking of rebuilding a new brick-based temple.

No matter how we understand John 2:19; we have Jesus clearly putting himself in the place of the temple. The differences of interpretation above is inconsequential. All that is meant to be established here is that Jesus sees himself in some significant way as the temple. That is the significant point; and it should be undisputed.

Luke 19:48 is followed immediately by the chief priests and scribes coming to him and challenging his authority to cleanse the temple. This was extremely offensive to them. Jesus’s response is “by what authority does John the Baptist baptize?” Now they refuse to answer the question for obvious reasons. But there is more significance to this question than is usually recognized. As stated in my last post, “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.” It is no coincidence that Luke places this incident immediately after Jesus’s cleansing of the temple.

John was claiming that God’s people were not recognized by their temple or torah observance, not at this critical time; no, instead, they are going to be recognized by repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for their Messiah.

Moving on from here: consider the nature of some of Jesus’s statements in Matt. 5. Consider what Jesus says about oaths for example: 33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

You can compare this to Lev. 19:12; Numbers 30:2. Now, I am not suggesting that Jesus is contradicting Moses. What Jesus is doing however is calling for obedience to a command that is markedly different than what was allowed under Moses. Again, what Jesus commands of his followers is not contradicting Moses on this point, it is different however. Moses didn’t prohibit taking oaths in the way that Jesus prohibited it. What Jesus’s precise meaning here is not really the issue: here, as in several other places in this section, Jesus is saying that there is a law they have heard like “do not commit adultery” and he is adding to it “do not even lust after a woman.”

What Jesus is inaugurating is an elevated ethic that is to characterize the new humanity being created in and around Himself. Christ is inaugurating God’s new kingdom and launching into being a new obedience to which the torah pointed, but which will render the torah inadequate.

When Jesus declares all foods clean in Mark 7, he is inaugurating what will be further implemented in Acts 10 through Peter’s vision. In Peter’s vision God tells Peter that he (God) has declared the previously unclean animals clean. This is significant because in Leviticus the reason God told Israel to separate the clean and unclean animals was because God had separated Israel out from the rest of the world. So, the foundational reason for separating animals, was the fact that Israel as God’s people had been marked out by God as clean, while the rest of the world is considered unclean. Leviticus 20:24-25 “I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. 25 You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean.” This is exactly why at Cornelius’s house, Peter says:“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

These two things are held together in Leviticus 20, and this is why Peter makes the connection that he does. It would be untenable in light of this to say that Peter’s vision, and God’s statement to him, is not specifically referring to clean and unclean animals because that is specifically what it is about. And on the basis of the explicit connection in Leviticus between separating animals, and separating peoples it is self-evident that the two go together. So: if God called Israel to separate animals because He had separated Israel out from the other nations so that it was “unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation,” then, when God declares all animals clean the theological conclusion that Peter draws is that, because of God declaring all animals clean then all men must also be declared clean. Why did he draw that conclusion. Because: in Leviticus the whole reason why they were to separate the animals was because of the seperation of the peoples from Israel; therefore when God unseparates the animals, Peter concludes that men too must be unseparated. (This makes so much sense of the NT, and table fellowship, and circumcision)

So let me recap this into a condensed point:

Jesus continues this ministry of repentance and baptism that began with John the Baptist; and Jesus also claims to possess the authority to forgive sins. He claims authority to put himself in the place of the temple, to retell the story of the passover around himself, to embody Israel as her representative, to declare all foods clean, and to reinterpret the law of Moses around his own authority.

Major Point: Jesus is in effect redrawing the boundary markers that ‘mark out’ God’s people; and he is redrawing them around himself and his own ministry; rather than around torah and temple observance. So how do we know who God’s people are, how can we tell; if not by circumcision and food laws? Answer: Those who trust in and follow the Messiah, Jesus of Nazereth. This is set in contrast to what was the previous boundary markers: circumcision, dietary laws, temple observance, and so on.

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