Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:19
If you read the eyewitness accounts, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, they have Jesus clearing the temple at the end of Jesus’ life. John puts it all the way at the beginning of his ministry in John 2. Some think this means he cleared the temple twice. I think Jesus only cleared it once, but John put it at the beginning of his account as an act of foreshadowing. John let the readers of his account know at the beginning: this isn’t going to turn out the way you think.
This claim Jesus made against the temple was a threat that was taken seriously. At Jesus’ trial just hours before his execution, Jesus’ claim was brought up against him:
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Mark 14:57-58Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple, he said if they destroyed the temple. And he wasn’t even talking about the Temple temple. He was talking about his body.
They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. John 2:20-21
Two things here: Jesus wasn’t threatening the actual temple in Jerusalem, he was talking about his own body. Yet he still talked about destroying a temple while actually in the temple in Jerusalem. Is that a big deal? Well, you tell me. You walk into any international airport, and you start talking loudly about how everything is “the bomb” and how you’re so excited you just feel like “blowing up.” I don’t care how figuratively you speak, you’re still getting arrested! Jesus knew what he was saying was incendiary, yet he said it anyways.
And let’s remember, he talked about destroying the temple right after he trashed the literal temple. So the temple guards had every right to think he was talking about the actual temple. This whole episode reveals just how incredibly upset Jesus was with the corrupt practices of the ancient temple in Jerusalem.