Losing My Literalism: Jesus Cleanses the Temple

I’m just looking at a few passages that show the lunacy of reading the text out of context. Because text minus context is subject to all manner of distortions. And the highest concentration of such instances where woodenly literal reading leads to error if found in the book of John.

The reason I’m conducting this miniseries is to show that the hermeneutic of dispensationalism is flawed, and I’m not ashamed to state that from the beginning. Of course, they will object and say that this is an unfair assessment, for no dispensational scholar would assume Jesus was speaking about the temple of wood and stone, for the text says right there what it means! But the errors of dispensational thought are the same as the errors of those who did not receive Jesus in His first advent. They read the scriptures in a purely literal sense, just as the dispensationalists claim to.

“I don’t read into the Bible. I just read what it says and believe it at face value.” That’s the accusation you hear from them, isn’t it? Oh, they are far too polite to admit that it is an accusation! But the implication is there. “I believe what is written” is a tacit claim that their opponent does not. Thus, it is the dispensationalist who is uncharitable and who applies their own religious test upon others to see if they are truly in the faith. I say this as one who has had ‘concerns’ about my own testimony brought up, just as soon as I started to question the dispensationalism I was raised with.

I don’t say that flippantly. My father heard that I may not be dispensational and he went straight to his library and brought up his books by Lewis Sperry Chafer to confront my apostasy after less than a year of proclaiming Christ. He was visibly shaking as he pleaded with me to read this book. I asked him if it was enough that I trusted in the Son of God and he said it was. But all the same, he wanted me to rejoin the understandings of his upbringing. He had a great sense of tradition, though he would never admit such a thing. Not unlike how the Pharisees had a fondness for tradition, including those things that they took at face value, never peering any deeper for the way that it all was to point to Jesus.

John 2:18-22
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore 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.

Jesus had just cleared the temple of money changers, whip in hand. Whether this was the only time He did so or perhaps this was the first of two times is not the discussion I aim to have. Jesus declared that the temple would be destroyed by the Jews and then raised again three days later. The temple had taken forty-six years to be built and was the centerpiece of Jewish life in Jerusalem and throughout the known world. The thought that such a building, where God resides, would be destroyed was beyond comprehension! And the idea that Jesus would only need three days to rebuild it was seen as blasphemy.

This was all what was going through the minds of the religious leaders. They took their instruction seriously and literally. And their instruction was the Old Testament that we now, enriched with their own traditions meant to provide guide rails around the Law of Moses for the ease of the people. I say that last phrase quite tongue in cheek, for the burden of God is easy and His burden is light, while the Pharisees ended up saddling the people with weights they were never meant to bear. Proverbs 12:10 reminds us that “the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” These religious leaders may have had good intentions with their rules, but the effect of them was to enslave people into worse examples than they themselves were. Too harsh? Let’s let Jesus speak clearly, shall we?

Matthew 23:15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

The primary foes of Jesus were not the Romans. The foes were those people who wanted their coming Anointed One to expel the Romans! The foes of Jesus were those who took whatever understanding of God’s wishes for people that they accepted and took them as literally as they could. The Pharisees were hypocrites and the Sadducees rejected any supernatural work of God in the same way that many in today’s world reject the supernatural as beneath their modern sensibilities. Can you relate? I sure can.

These religious leaders rejected the Son of God because He didn’t fit into their box. And when He disrupted their scheme to sell sacrificial animals at inflated prices they confronted Him. Jesus compared the Temple, where the Holy Spirit had once dwelt, to His own body, where the Holy Spirit now dwelt. The Glory of God had left the temple in Ezekiel 10-11. That glory never returned in full to the temple. It was still there (Luke 1), but was only found fully in Jesus (Luke 4).

Let me be clear. The temple had been holy because that is where people could interact with God. When God left the temple, the structure just became a building, nothing more. It is God who made the building holy. In the days before Jesus’ birth, the holiest place in the world was Mary’s womb, for that is where “God with us” resided. Once the king entered into our world, the earth began to form into His footstool. The time between Jesus’ ministry and the destruction of the Temple was an overlapping period where two competing religions claimed one God. One religion worshiped the Son. The other rejected the Son. Guess which one became irrelevant in the destruction of the temple. It’s the one that had to change the entire format into something God never commanded.

The Son who was crucified was destroyed, and He was raised on the third day. That was the event that the changed the entire world. In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. His own people did not comprehend Him, because they loved the darkness and He was the light. They loved the trees, but hated the forest. They took the scriptures literally in all cases, even to their own judgment. And when the Son of God confronted them for making His temple into a den of thieves, they objected to His correction.

You see, taking every word as literally as your sinful mind desires can actually result in you missing the heart of God. Yes, Matthew 4:4 reminds us that we live by every word spoken by God. But we must not be lazy caretakers of these words by settling for a two dimensional caricature when the real thing is standing right in front of us. Do the work of a Berean! Become familiar with the entire Bible so that you too can recognize when someone is running a grift in the name of God, who said that His house would be one of prayer and who despises unequal weights.

To reject the whole council of God would be… literally… sinful. It is to be the wicked servant who buried the treasure for fear that you might not get any return on investment.

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Published by CoffeeSwirls