14. Destroying And Raising The Temple (2:18-25)

Then the Jews (Judaens) answered and said to Him, What sign do You show to us, since You do these things? Jesus said to them, Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up. Then the Jews said, This sanctuary was forty six years being built, and do You raise it up in three days? But He spoke about the sanctuary of His body. Then when He was raised from the dead, His disciples recalled that He said this to them. And they believed the Scripture, even the Word that Jesus spoke. And as He was in Jerusalem, at the Passover, at the Feast, many believed into His name, seeing the miracles which He did. But Jesus Himself did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all, and because He had no need that anyone should witness concerning man, for He knew what was in man. (John 2:18-25)

By the externals of the temple at Jeruslaem were represented the externals of the Word, which belong to the sense of the letter. This is because the same was represented by the temple as by the tabernacle, namely, heaven and the Church, and thence also the Word. That the temple at Jerusalem signified the Divine Human of the Lord, He Himself teaches in John: Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up … But He spake of the temple of His body. John ii 19, 21; and where the Lord is meant, the Word also is meant, because He is the Word. Now, since the interior things of the temple represented the interior things of heaven and the Church, thus also of the Word, therefore its exterior things represented and signified the exterior things of heaven and the Church, thus also the exterior things of the Word, which belong to the sense of the Letter. (Doctrine of Sacred Scripture 47{5})

This statement of the Lord in which He states, Destroy this sanctuary (temple), and in three days I will raise it up is the sign that will be given as a testimony of His authority. It’s a statement that is perplexing for the natural man, bordering on being the height of arrogance. This man retorts – This sanctuary was forty six years being built, and do You raise it up in three days? For the natural man only hears the meaning of the literal words and is incapable of hearing with the ears of the spirit and so the words that Jesus speaks appears as nonsense to him. For the spiritual man though, the words are rich in meaning because they are perceived by an actual experience of the reality of these words in their own lives. For those whose faith is grounded in a natural understanding of Christianity, the statement that refers to the body of the Lord is understood solely in terms of the physical body of Jesus and its being raised after three days in the tomb. But Spiritual Christianity moves beyond the historical sanctuary(temple) and the event of the resurrection of the Lord, and sees in these words a statement concerning the experience of the Word’s activity in the minds of those who seek to follow the Lord in His Word.

We know from the Lord’s own words that the sanctuary represented His body. What perhaps is not so clear from the literal sense but is clear from a spiritual understanding of what is meant by the term body, is that both the sanctuary and the physical body of the historical Jesus of the Gospel form different representations of the same thing. They both represent the literal sense of the Word or Divine truth in a natural form. The literal sense of the Word is the external form of truth accommodated to the natural mind, just as the external aspect of the sanctuary is a body for what it contains, and just as the physical human body is a container for its spirit. The Word is the Divine Human of the Lord for it has a body called its literal sense and it has a spirit called the spiritual sense. This spiritual sense is made up of celestial and spiritual goods and truths which are the heavenly affections and concepts that make up the internal man. The literal sense is truth in a natural form, from which the natural man can gain a sense of the historical Jesus and form a religion based around that historical figure. The spiritual sense is truth in a spiritual form, from which the spiritual man can gain a sense of the reality of the presence of the Lord God shining through the literal sense of the Word, and so form a religious or spiritual practise based around that.

For the Lord God to be seen in the Word in this way, the literal aspect of the Word must die in the sense that it no longer plays a part in our thinking when we come to read and study the Text. What might this be like?  Well, let’s look at our reading for today. If we are thinking naturally when we come to the Text, our thought will be led to think of the historical Jesus in a discussion with the Jews about the sanctuary and that His reply is referring to His bodily resurrection. Natural thought can’t see beyond the historical elements for it is bound to concepts that involve ideas of people in space and time. This is the focus of natural Christianity.

If we come to the Text thinking spiritually then none of these historical elements carries any real weigh. For we are led in our thinking to see that each of the elements in the literal sense signifies something deeper pertaining to the inner world of our thoughts and affections and their relationship to the activity of the Word. And so when we read the term Jews we think about the proprium with its self interest and selfish loves. When we read Jesus, we might think of the power of the inner sense of Word to deliver us from the evils of our proprium. When we read temple or sanctuary, we can think of our external understanding of truth or the literal sense of the Word that makes up our external thought in religious and spiritual matters. When we read the phrase destroy this sanctuary, we think of the breaking down of mental structures that can no longer serve in the development of the spiritual man. When we read body, we think of that which contains the Divine life, and when we read of it being raised up after three days, we think of the restoration of truth through its being united to goodness in a full and completed state. These things are the focus of Spiritual Christianity and hopefully we shall see that it is this level of understanding that is truly able to instruct and empower us to life a fuller spiritual life.

The words here contain principles that make up the common experience of all people who have undergone major changes in their life. They also show us what our response needs to be when this occurs on the spiritual plain of our relationship to the Word or Lord. The natural man wants a sign to be convinced of the truth. He desires some sort of manifestation to prove once and for all that the Word is the Divine truth that it claims to be and hence offer a solid rationale as to why he should submit his life before it. Natural reasoning tends to think that if God would only show himself in a way that is undeniable then this would then lead people to believe. But this kind of reasoning is false and shows ignorance regarding the unregenerate natural mind. The Lord’s desire is for the salvation of the human race and if it were the case that external signs and miracles could convince people and bring about their salvation, then the Lord wouldn’t hesitate to use them. But in general terms this is not His approach. In fact what we find is that while miracles may be performed and give rise to a certain level of belief, it isn’t a belief that the Lord can use to join himself to a us. This is because external miracles only bring about an external level of belief; they don’t bring about a deep conviction of the truth, and so don’t produce goodness in the life. The doctrines for Spiritual Christianity teach that once having been confronted on the level of the senses with irrevocable proof of the power of God, then rather than a person’s salvation being secured, it is actually put at risk.

This seems to go against our intuition of how things work. Surely if the Lord performed a miracle a person has to believe it and so acknowledge the Lord as its source. Well, yes, and this is the problem. Undeniable proof of the Lord’s existence presented to the senses actually removes a person’s freedom and destroys their rationality or ability to arrive at their own conclusions and to act on these in relation to spiritual life. There are essentially two things that separate us from animals and makes us human. These are our rationality and our freedom in spiritual matters. If our salvation is to remain a possibility the Lord needs to preserve our rational faculty so that we can examine truths and draw our own sense of their value for our life. He also needs to preserve our ability to act, as if of ourselves, in freedom in response to the truths we have before us. Miracles and signs that appeal to our senses have the power to undermine these two attributes and so remove what is essential to our humanity.

Yet, it is clear from the Word that there have been times when the human spiritual condition has fallen so low that the ability of people to use their rational faculty to assess truth for themselves has been virtually destroyed. In these times, external miracles have been used by the Lord as a last resort to preserve and keep alive something of the idea of God in human consciousness. But by and large, while miracles are something the natural man has a fascination for and gets incredibly excited about, they rarely if ever bring about real and lasting change of any significant spiritual value into a person’s life. On the scale of the kinds of Divine Revelation, miracles that appear before the external senses fall into the lowest natural manifestation of the Divine. The highest form of Revelation on the other hand is that which appeals to those faculties that makes us human and so will leave us in freedom to use our rational faculties to respond willingly and this form of revelation is the Word, for it is the Divine truth in a form accommodated to every level and state of human and angelic consciousness.

This low level attributed to miracles as a form of revelation can be seen in verse 23 and 24 where we read that…

And as He was in Jerusalem, at the Passover, at the Feast, many believed into His name, seeing the miracles which He did. But Jesus Himself did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all, and because He had no need that anyone should witness concerning man, for He knew what was in man.

The natural man will travel to the ends of the earth to witness the miraculous, but will he reflect on the nature and quality of his thoughts and affections and look there to find the miracle of inner transformation in obedience to the Word? No! He sees no value in this. He is interested only in external shows of the spectacular and he delights in having his senses amazed and stimulated. But the truly spiritual man is not taken in by external displays of the fantastic but approaches life with a determination to have all things within himself brought into order through applying the Word of truth to the inner life of his thoughts and affections.

The sign given to the spiritual man is found in the inner meaning of the words;

Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.

But this sign is not something seen or comprehended by the natural man; it is a sign for the spiritual man in that it is witnessed by those who are in the effort to live the spiritual life. This sign is not something the natural man can see because it is a sign that is only perceived in hindsight by those who undergo the processes involved in spiritual regeneration. We can see something of the truth here when we lift our understanding out of the natural meaning of these words and consider what they signify spiritually. When we do this all the negative connotations drop away, and we see that this isn’t about a confrontation that Jesus had with the Jews. Instead, the words that Jesus speaks in the Text of the Gospel embody what flows forth from the Word or Logos of God. Here we are confronted with a principle of spiritual growth, and in the statement…

This sanctuary was forty six years being built, and do You raise it up in three days?

We are confronted with our own natural fears of having to lose our life to find it, or of having to give up our natural life, loves, and aspirations in order to find our spiritual life with its higher loves and deeper aspirations. The sanctuary is the Lord’s body and the Lord’s body is that which contains Him, therefore the apostle Paul declares that those who belong to the church constitute the Lord’s body for in them dwells the spirit of the Lord.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?   If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

The human mind when it houses goods and truths from the Word makes up the living temple of the Lord. So what is this sign? It is this, the words destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up – a statement about what is asked of all who wish to follow the Lord and the sign only becomes apparent when we respond. We all have a temple of psychological and spiritual ideas that we are deeply attached to and it houses our idea of God, of the Word and its meaning for our life. When this is clouded in natural ideas tied to the literal meaning of the Word, this sense-based understanding limits It’s power to bring about an inner transformation in us.

If we are seeking to make truths one with our life, then this is due to the Lord having awakened within us an affection for them. For as truths are woven into the mind so they work firstly to dissolve our old ways of seeing things that are founded on natural ideas and concepts. And secondly, to construct a new mind or way of seeing things founded on spiritual ideas and concepts. These two ways of seeing are two temples of human thought. In this statement we are asked to willingly allow the destruction of our dependence on that natural temple that is filled with self-sufficiency and natural delight, with all the sense base perceptions that we carry of spiritual things. These are the ideas that have carried us for a long time, ideas that we have built up over the course of our life and may have served us well up until now. For each of us these will be different, but we all will be holding onto ideas, views, perceptions that we know can no longer serve us in taking us where the Lord wants to lead us. Ideas that get in the way of having the loves of heaven more prominent in our lives, ideas maybe, that have taken forty and six years or more to mould into our way of being in the world. The number forty signifies struggles and difficulties and six signifies the labour and investment that has gone into getting us to where we are now. But the Lord is constantly seeking to bring us to Himself, to have us loosen our hold on what prevents us from trusting Him more fully.

The ever present questions in engaging with the Word are, ‘If I let go, and trust Him can He really raise up a new temple or will I hold onto the security of what I have constructed over the course of my life? It’s taken a lifetime of struggle and labour to get me here, can I really trust the Lord to raise it up in three days if I let go? Can I let go of my reliance on a natural understanding of the Word and doctrine and really commit to seeking what is spiritual within it and so begin to work with these things on an inner level?

These are very real questions, and their answers lie in letting go, for it is only then that we can know in our experience that the Lord is faithful to His Word. The Greek word translated raise up as in I will raise up this temple in three days literally means, through the idea of collecting one’s faculties, to awaken, or to rouse from sleep. This is what the Word seeks to do for us, to awaken us to the reality of the Lord’s love and wisdom, but for this to happen we must be prepared to let go of our self-reliance and willingly enter into a life of spiritual work…

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