From The Archives: What Did Jesus Mean?

I am still wondering about the saying attributed to Jesus in various forms in various Gospels (and in Mark, denied as a false accusation), “I will destroy this temple and in three days rebuild it”. That something like this was the earliest form is most probable, and it seems to be authentic.

The big question is what he meant by it. On the one hand, given the other evidence that Jesus expected the kingdom to fully dawn in the very near future, I see no particular reason not to take it literally – with the “I” in this case presumably being God, and Jesus speaking in the prophetic first person. On the other hand, given Jesus’ propensity for parables and striking images, I am hesitant to simply assume that the literal meaning is the most likely meaning on the lips of Jesus. Since the Gospel of John dates this saying (and the temple incident) to a period when John the Baptist is also still active, might this not be something Jesus said (and did) while still connected with John the Baptist’s movement? In such a setting, a literal meaning is still possible, but so is a figurative one in which the proclamation of repentance and baptism bypasses (and thus ‘destroys’) the temple, putting in its place a community that is united in repentance and ritual rather than by space and sacrifice.

One final thought. When Josephus says that John’s followers seemed ready to do anything for him, so that Herod was concerned, might not Jesus’ action in the Temple be in mind? Might not Jesus’ action in the Temple have led rather directly to John’s imprisonment, to Jesus’ withdrawal to Galilee, and thus eventually to his sense that his own fate my parallel John’s? Is it also perhaps due to the reaction to this prediction that Jesus was from then on inclined to use the less direct ‘son of man’ rather than ‘I’?
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  • KCharles

    I think that Jesus knew he could level the entire structure if he indeed wanted to. If he did, the rubble would be cleared away within three days, by the shocked and sinful people who would come to take a piece of the old structure away; to keep it, to pray upon it. What would remain would be a parking lot for camels. Like razing a Las Vegas casino to build a landscaped park for people to enjoy. Yes, Jesus was a visionary. The temple he would rebuild, is within minutes away from every one of us.

  • timlittle

    I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions which embrace the real Christ. We are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:;=books&qid;=1245892844&sr;=8-1These are our teachings passed on through generations. If you can't afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers – El Jacob Frank

  • Mike L.

    My 2 cents…These words tell us more about about the author(s) of the story than the historical Jesus. Since the words are likely written AFTER the temple was destroyed (AD 70), we can make a reasonable assumption that the author is backfilling the story of Jesus with events that could tie him to what was happening as the story was being written. The author is connecting a historical figure, with his (then) present day situation. The author is wishing for Jesus to return and rebuild the temple and writing that sense of hope back into the story. I don't think the historical Jesus "predicted" the temple falling or offered this particular threat. So the story is literal in the sense that, yes, the author does literally wish for a real rebuilt temple and real overthrowing of the Imperial forces. However, it is not literal in the sense that Jesus was a 1-900 physic hot line or a superman who could lay thousands of massive bricks with a single hand, leap the temple in a single bound, or stop a speeding chariot.A literalistic reading turns the story into a comic book. A purely metaphorical reading turns it into fable. It seems there is a 3rd approach that reads the story to find out about the very real author(s) and the author's very real difficulties. Isn't that better than assuming the point of the story is to tell us about the characters. Isn't that how we normally read stories, even today?

  • Steven Carr

    What did Jesus mean?Why not find somebody who has a personal relationship with Jesus and get them to put the question to Jesus?If you want to know what somebody meant by something, the easiest way is just to ask.

  • beowulf2k8

    John 2:19 "Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." — Jesus is daring them to destroy the temple of his body and saying in three days he will repair it.Mark 14:57-58 "And there arose certain, and bare **false witness** against him, saying, We heard him say, **I will** destroy this temple **that is made with hands**, and within three days I will build **another made without hands**."The false witnesses misunderstood or misrepresented him as having spoken of the 2nd temple and a claim to the ability to build the 3rd temple in 3 days time.I guess your question is, "What if the false witnesses of Mark had not misunderstood or misrepresented him?" or "What if they weren't really false witnesses after all?" Ok, so what if Jesus had really claimed that he would personally destroy the temple and then rebuild it in 3 days? Well, then, he obviously must have failed since it was 40 years later that it was destroyed, and it hasn't been rebuilt since.But based on the emphasis of Christianity that a temple made with hands is worthless because we are the temple, a spiritual temple build up as living stones, I find such a "what if" scenario totally laughable. This anti-temple theme is even found in Acts 7 and is the very cause of Stephen's martrydom. Stephen was not a martyr for the Deity of Christ or for the doctrine of the trinity, but for Jesus' anti-temple teachings and ramifications. Stephen died for pointing out that it was stiffnecked and uncircumcised of David to have desired the temple (after God told him he didn't want a temple) and for Solomon to have built the thing (along with other idolatrous shrines) because God doesn't dwell in temples made with hands. This was Stephen's witness for Jesus, and this is what got him stoned. Strangely, however, so-called Christians today think that we need to help the Jews find a red heifer and rebuild that hunk of uncircumcised stiffnecked pagan junk over there.