John 2:18–25 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Understanding the Word. The word sign in some contexts can refer to a proof or a validating sign, and that is what it means in this segment of the story. The Jews, which here means the Jewish officials, ask for proof that Jesus has the authority to cleanse the temple.
Cryptically, Jesus responds, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” This saying shows up in the trial of Jesus in a garbled form (see Mark 14:58) as an accusation against Jesus, so we can be pretty sure he did say something like this. Of course, the authorities were likely to take Jesus literally and therefore think that he had lost his mind. Thus far, it had taken forty-six years to build Herod’s temple (which suggests the building began somewhere around 16 BC before Herod died), and it was nowhere near finished. Any threat to the temple was a threat to the local economy because the number one employer of laborers in Jerusalem was the temple, with its ambitious building projects.
The Evangelist, in verse 21, provides commentary saying that Jesus was not referring to Herod’s temple, but to his own body as the place where God dwelt on earth while he was there.
In verse 22, we have another indication of after-the-fact clarity; the disciples brought to mind what Jesus said and understood it only after he rose from the dead. On the occasion itself, the actions probably prompted head-scratching and it may have fired up the more zealotic of the disciples, who wanted Jesus to be a military messiah like David. If this is what they thought after the triumphal entry on a donkey and then the temple cleansing, they would be disabused of this misunderstanding by the end of the week, and it would lead to disillusionment—all of the Twelve either denied, betrayed, or deserted Jesus before Thursday night was over. And then, of course, we have the revealing story of the trip down Emmaus Road by two former disciples leaving town (Luke 24), who ironically tell the risen Jesus “We had hoped [past tense] he would be the one who was going to redeem Israel,” but the crucifixion had crushed such hopes.
Notice as well that we are told that the disciples came to believe both Scripture and the words of Jesus. The early church would later put these two things together as their sacred writings.
The story ends on an intriguing note with our being told that many believed in Jesus because of the signs he performed in and around Jerusalem (presumably some of the miracles as well as the temple cleansing), but clearly what they believed was that Jesus was a miracle-worker. The phrase “believed in his name” probably means no more than believed in the miraculous power of his name and person. They did not believe he was the Son of God and the Savior, which explains why the story concludes by saying that Jesus knew what was and was not in such people’s hearts, and so he did not entrust himself to them.
- What temple was Jesus most concerned with, and why did he correctly predict the downfall of both Herod’s temple and his own?
- What was the key to the disciples’ later understanding of Scripture and Jesus’ own words?
- Why did Jesus not entrust himself to these new believers in his name?