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Jesus the New Temple

One of the most interesting features of the gospel of John is its particularly anti-Temple posturing (note Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of the gospel rather than near the end). Moreover, John’s gospel stands out particularly  in the way in which it presents Jesus as the New Temple/Tabernacle. In the gospel of John there is a concerted emphasis on the locus of the divine presence which shifts from the physical building of the Temple to Jesus’ own person (2:20-22, 4:20-24). In John Jesus proclaims himself rather than the Temple as the true locus of God’s presence, God’s place of coming to dwell with his people. Mary Coloe’s book Dwelling the Household of God develops these themes in a fascinating way.

There are a number of interesting literary connections throughout John’s gospel that relate to this theme of Jesus as the New Temple/Tabernacle. One of the most interesting is the account of Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet in John 12:1-8. The whole affair is noted to take place “six days before the Passover” which places it on the evening of the Sabbath. The evening of the Sabbath included the Habdalah prayers which involved a transition from sacred time to ordinary time. In the Habdalah the sacred and the profane were distinguished through a ritual of anointing which set aside holy objects, persons, and spaces for God’s service.

This is also connected to the Mosaic regulations for the consecration of the Tabernacle and the priesthood in Exodus:

Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy.  You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar shall be most holy. You shall also anoint the basin with its stand, and consecrate it.  Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and shall wash them with water, and put on Aaron the sacred vestments, and you shall anoint him and consecrate him, so that he may serve me as priest. (Exod 40:9-13)

Thus, in the context of John’s gospel Jesus is presented as the New Temple, consecrated as the locus of God’s divine presence among the people of God. This forms one of the key  images that characterizes Johannine Christology. In John’s gospel Jesus is the New Temple/Tabernacle, the overabundant, excessive fulfillment of God’s promises to dwell among his people (cf. Exod 25:8, 29:45-46). In the Johannine Jesus we see a sort of radical particularization of God’s eschatological covenant promises in which Jesus interrupts the reality of Israel even as God’s elect people, fullfilling their election even as he particularizes and “catholicizes” it in his own singular reality. In this singular event, it is Jesus, the New Temple/Tabernacle of God who lifts up Israel in a radically apocalyptic event of transfiguration and incorporation into the life of the Trinitarian God even as — in the very same act — Jesus actualizes reality of Israel’s election in a radically new mode, one which particularizes Jews and Gentiles together in and as one body, the body of the Crucified and Risen Messiah.

3 Comments

  1. Terry wrote:

    I presume you’ve read Greg Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission…?

    Friday, October 24, 2008 at 4:13 am | Permalink
  2. Dave Belcher wrote:

    It is also noteworthy that in Revelation — though there is dispute whether the revelator drew on the gospel writer…there’s consensus that they were not the same writer — John sees that in the New Jerusalem there is no longer any temple, because the Lord God Almighty [kurios theos pantokrator] and the Lamb are its temple. Not simply Jesus, or the Lamb, but Lord God Almighty and the Lamb together (there is already an implication that the Lamb bears the Spirit with him throughout Revelation). This is not to upend what you are doing here, or to suggest that John’s Apocalypse is not “Christocentric” (though that term must not be taken without qualification), just thought it would add something interesting.

    What is significant, regardless, about the absence of the physical temple in this holy city, is that while the presence of the Lord was “restricted” so to speak to one place, now God makes God’s dwelling with God’s people directly, “immediately,” in intimate communion (it is also significant that the heavenly Jerusalem descends to earth, even as there is “a new heaven and a new earth” — that’s John for you!).

    Friday, October 24, 2008 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  3. Good post. You should check out Paul Hoskin’s dissertation which he wrote under Carson: “Jesus as the Fulfillment of the Temple in the Gospel of John.” It’s a good study.

    Friday, October 24, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

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