This question originated from a kid in the children’s ministry at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. What follows is more or less the exact answer I will give him this Wednesday night. If you live in the area and have kids that ask questions about God, life, the Bible, salvation, or otherwise, I want to invite you to attend the First Kids Discover children’s ministry at First Baptist Church, East Bernstadt on Wednesday nights from 6:30-8:00 PM.
In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples and others many times that he would die and rise from the dead. Jesus knew what his mission was. He knew what was before him. His disciples thought he was the promised Messiah who would reign on King David’s throne in Jerusalem forever. They were just waiting on Jesus to overthrow the Romans and take back the throne. But they didn’t totally understand. Jesus was the promised Messiah, or Savior-King. And he would reign on a throne in a kingdom forever. But he would earn his throne by dying, not by killing.
Well, after Jesus was arrested, he was placed on trial. Before standing before Pilate, Jesus stood before the Jewish religious leaders, and the high priest. In order to sentence a criminal to death, there had to be evidence of a crime. And by the Law of God, there had to be two witnesses. The problem was that the Jewish religious leaders really wanted to kill Jesus, but they couldn’t find anything to charge Jesus with. He hadn’t committed a crime. He never sinned. But two men came forward and said, “This man said, ‘I able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days’” (Matt. 26:61).
Now, this sounds like a serious accusation. If Jesus threatened to destroy the sacred temple, he would be committing blasphemy, which deserves the death penalty. Plus, he would be outed as a fraud. Did Jesus really say this? Or was it a lie?
No, Jesus actually said this. John tells us that Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). What did Jesus mean by this? Is he going to start a rebellion, destroy the temple, and takeover as a military general? Or is something greater at hand?
Jesus is not talking about taking over the city by destroying the temple. Jesus is talking about his death and resurrection. Jesus is saying that he is the temple. He will be destroyed. The temple was the place where the presence of God dwelled. In Jesus we have the ultimate temple. The presence of God dwelled fully in him (Col. 2:9). And he would be destroyed. Jesus was foretelling his death. He is going to be destroyed by the Jews and Romans for a crime he didn’t commit. But he is also going to be destroyed by his Father for the sins of his people. Jesus is going to be destroyed by the wrath of his Father in the place of sinners like you and me.
But Jesus isn’t going to be destroyed and left to lie in the rubble of destruction. No, the temple will be “built back.” In other words, Jesus will be raised from the dead. Jesus is saying, “I am the temple, but this temple will be destroyed. Oh, but in three days, this temple will be built back to greater glory and beauty and power than it had before.” After his resurrection, Jesus was given a body that will never grow sick or tired or die again.
So, Jesus’ statement that he would destroy the temple and build it back was not a threat, but a promise. It is Jesus’ glorious promise that he would conquer sin and death. And he grants this victory to all who find themselves in him by faith.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.