John 2:13-22, The Father’s House the Body of Christ

[January 30, 2011] This Sunday we move from the nuptial scene of Cana’s wedding to the first Passover of Jesus’ of Jesus’ ministry, from Galilee to Jerusalem, to the scene of Jesus’ prophetic declamation against the Temple. In the first scene Jesus works in the background; in the second He cannot be hid. The first scene speaks of union and moves from disappointment to joy; the second with its conflict speaks of judgments and endings. Yet in spite of how these scenes contrast with each other, they both conclude on the note of newness: the wine of the new creation, the Body of our Lord Jesus in resurrection. Patterns unfold here and we shall touch on these.

The Same Story in the Other Gospels

For those familiar with the other gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark, the first thing we notice is the change in order. In John’s gospel the “Cleansing of the Temple” takes place during the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry as His first public act. In the others, this story takes place on the eve of Jesus’ last Passover, just after His “triumphal entry” into the City on Palm Sunday. The historicity of either order can be argued. Those who blame the hostility of the Temple authorities for His death argue for the synoptic order. Paula Fredriksen and others blame the Roman authorities for His death. It was His Messianic procession into the City of David that incited their ire, not the scene in the Temple. I agree with her historical account. This makes it possible for John’s order to be the more historically accurate, as Richard Bauckham argues. This question aside, each gospel writer had their own purpose for the order they used.

The purpose of this story in the synoptic gospels is not to explain the cause of our Lord’s death. Rather, it was to initiate His pronouncement during the next few days of God’s judgment against the City and the Temple. It is accompanied by the sign of the cursing of the fig tree that bore no fruit. This was Zion, the City of David, and the throne belonged to the Messiah, but the City was unprepared, the shepherds responsible for the sheep were unfaithful, and the tenants responsible for the vineyard were rebels. As God’s judgment fell on the first Temple because the people were not worthy of it, so it shall fall on the second Temple.

The lesson of the prophets was that the unworthiness of the people of Judah and the people of Israel was endemic of the human condition. The entire world comes under the judgment of God. The second Temple goes up without any pretensions of righteousness in the sight of God. It is a sign for them; that is all. But certain people—members of the Jerusalem elite, men of influence and power—fell into the trap of confusing the provisional institution with the Kingdom of God. But God does not turn to the Gentiles because they are more worthy—far from it! God, in fact, never turns away from His covenant people, “for the gracious gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” But after the judgment is sealed—by the death of the Messiah—God’s covenant with Israel opens up to the Gentiles.  “God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Romans 11:29, 32). The outward sign of that judgment—the siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple—had yet to take place.

The people of Israel, as in the days of exile—which in a sense never ended, both theologically and, for the Diasporan community, historically—continues without the Temple of Jerusalem and its sacrifices. Their life centers around the synagogue and the reading of the Law and the Prophets, and in the decades following the destruction of the Temple, came under the new leadership of Rabbinic Judaism (see Matthew 21:41). It is a humble community—with its human foibles—waiting patiently for the coming of the Messiah. The rise of Zionism has put a new cast on things, but it has not fundamentally altered the religion.

How the Story Is Different in John’s Gospel

For John, writing about 90 AD, the destruction of the Temple lies twenty years in the past. His account of the scene in the Temple has a number of differences from the other accounts. It does not take place in conjunction with a special procession into the City. It is the only one of the four gospels that mentions Jesus seeing the oxen and sheep and casting them out along with the merchants and money-changers and doves. He deliberately makes ahead of time a whip out of cords for the occasion. Obviously His act was not an impulsive display of temper! John’s gospel says that Jesus pours out the coins; the others only speak of His overturning the tables and chairs. And only in John’s gospel does Jesus say (to the sellers of the sacrificial doves): “Take these things away from here!” In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the Temple as a House of Prayer; in John He does not. Instead, Jesus speaks of “My Father’s House.” He speaks of it not being a house of trade whereas in the other gospels He speaks of how they had turned it into a den of thieves. John alone quotes Psalm 69:9 (“The zeal of Your house …”) in relation to this. Furthermore, the exchange in verses 18-20 (and John’s comments in 21-22) has no correspondence in the other gospels.

What are we to make of these differences? The shift in emphasis is huge. In the synoptic, Jesus condemns the misappropriation of the “House of Prayer (for all the Gentiles)” into the commercial center of Jerusalem. The shepherds of Israel are not at their job but instead are making themselves fat. The tenants are not rendering unto God what is God’s but are keeping the fruit of the vineyard for themselves. In John’s gospel on the contrary, the focus is not on any dishonesty (Jesus says, “house of trade,” not “a den of thieves”) but on the sale of sacrificial animals. The animals are driven out along with those who sold them. The message here seems to be about the end of the sacrificial system in Jerusalem rather than the judgment of the City and its ruling elite. What replaces the sacrificial animals—this is only implied here—is the “destroyed” Body of the Lord Jesus.

Moreover, the Temple is clearly “My Father’s House,” a term that Jesus uses again in John 14:2. Jesus alludes to the destruction of the Temple, but when we think we know to what He refers (the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem), He shifts the sense. He is referring to the destruction of His Body. The “real” Temple is not the building, which was only a sign of it. The “real” Temple is His own Body. “My Father’s House” is His Body. In resurrection His Body will become a place of many “abodes”—when we shall abide in Him. When this becomes a fact, as it did on Easter Sunday, the building of the Temple, which had been in construction then for forty-six years, will become irrelevant. The sign will have found its fulfillment, the type its archetype.

The inner Temple—the symbolic place of God’s “dwelling”—and the sacrificial system which gave access to it, which the outer Temple housed, come together as both are identified with the Body of Christ, the Sacrifice and the abiding place of God and His people.

The Sequencing in John

As we read the Gospel according to John, it is as though we are peeling away the layers of meaning.

At the Jordan the emphasis was on the descent of the Holy Spirit and our abiding with Jesus who is the gate of heaven, the place where heaven and earth come together, the House of God. This corresponds to the scene towards the end of the gospel where the disciples gather to the resurrected Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit through which He comes to abide in them. Both stories echo each other: “Come and see” by “We have seen” and “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” by “My Lord and my God!” Both stories evoke the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath of rest and satisfaction.

Then in Cana the emphasis is on the coming together of the bride and Bridegroom and the joy of the union represented by the good wine that replaces the water of the old creation. This corresponds to the scene on Easter Sunday when Mary is devastated at not finding the Body of Jesus (Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine”) and then filled with joy when she is united to Jesus, and He announces that His Father is now her (their) Father and she (they) are His siblings. This story echoes and represents the fulfillment of the Cana story as it also evokes the sixth day of creation when God created the man and the woman.

We now peel another layer, a darker one for sure. The story of Jesus’ clearing the Temple of its sacrificial animals and then speaking of the destruction of the Temple both unmistakably signify His death. His Body is the sacrifice that fulfills all the sacrifices of the Torah and His Body is also the House of the Father, the place on earth where God dwells, the place of God’s presence, the place where the Father abides. Through the offering up of His Body as a sacrifice, His Body in resurrection becomes accessible to us for us to enter as the inner sanctum of the Father’s House.

When the Holy Spirit abides in us, the Father and the Son both abide in us (John 14:23), and we abide in them. As the Father, Son and Spirit mutually dwell in each other by nature, they share that mutual indwelling with us by grace. But that is only hinted at here.

The corresponding story is the story of the cross, John 18—19, His arrest, trial and crucifixion. In John’s gospel it is not a tragedy that happens to Jesus of which He is the victim, but He takes charge and proceeds boldly to His death. He knocks down those who come to arrest Him with the declaration of “I am!” and He puts Pilate in His place. He speaks to His mother of the author of the gospel, “Behold, your son,” and to the author of the gospel of His mother, “Behold, your mother,” He expresses His thirst, and declares, “It is finished!” And then the spear pierces His side and blood and water flow out. He is already the Father’s House, even on the cross, even as He offers Himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God. What John 2:13-22 represent is fulfilled in John 18—19.

On the fifth day of creation, the waters of chaos are tamed and now team with life, as do the heavens above, even as the land remains void of animal life.

Bruno Barnhart wrote a book, The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center (Paulist Press, 1993), in which he presents and meditates on this mandalic pattern of the Gospel according to John.

As he points out, the story also has a correspondence to two other stories, just as the wedding of Cana had a fourfold correspondence—in the stories of the woman of Samaria and the anointing at Bethany. So here there is a correspondence with the story of the Gentile’s son in Cana who was about to die and who is healed from a distance by Jesus’ word and now lives (John 4:43-54). There also corresponds John 10—11, where Jesus presents Himself as the Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep and who allows Lazarus to die, only to raise Him from the dead. We will look into this more at another time.

The Body of Jesus

In John 1:14 the Word became flesh. This does not mean that the flesh of Jesus merely housed the Word. The flesh of Mary His mother housed the Word. Her body was the Lord’s Temple. It is a heresy, however, to say that the flesh of Jesus did not itself become divine. It is a heresy to say that only the spirit, or the spirit and soul, of Jesus was divine and not His human body.

We tend to identify ourselves with our souls. If we suddenly changed bodies with someone else, it would be pretty weird but we would still recognize ourselves as ourselves. We are not our bodies. We have a body, and if we gradually replaced all the parts with artificial parts, we would still be ourselves in a fundamental way.

Yet we also are aware of our feelings and our thoughts and the concepts in our minds in a way similar to how we are aware of our bodies. If we lost our memory or our capacity for certain feelings, we would still be ourselves. We are not identical with our concept of ourselves, or our self-image. We are something deeper.

Yet we nevertheless are the whole of our thoughts and feelings and even our body at any point in time. What would we be without a body, even if we exchanged it for the body of another? Even in our dreams we have a body. It is something to ponder.

When the Son of God became a human being, this Human Being never existed apart from His identification with the Son of God. There never was a separate human fetus from the fetus of the Son of God. The human body of the Son of God was always and entirely—even in its most physical sense, down to the atoms and molecules (and so on)—the human body of the Son of God. It could not be separated from Him as if it were not Himself.

In resurrection, that human body, even in its physicality, becomes divinized, sharing in all the properties of the divine as if it were its own (we can only imagine this insofar as it is meaningful to us, but it goes all the way, far past what we can conceive). The limitations of physicality, while the physical is still what it is as defined by those limitations, are overcome. The physical and temporal (changing from moment to moment) Body of Jesus becomes omnipresent and eternal.

Through the Holy Spirit, with whom the Son of God coinheres—they mutually dwell in each other and share all that they are—the Son of God, in all that He is both physically, soulically and spiritually as a human being, along with His human history, as well as His divinity—become communicable to us.

The Body of Jesus is not the Temple in which the Son of God resides, for He is His body. But, even before the Son of God became incarnate, the Father abided (dwelt) in Him, and thus He was the House of the Father (we can say that each Person of the Trinity is the House of the Others, for They all dwell in each other). However, after the incarnation, since the Son of God is inseparable from the human body of Jesus, the Body of Jesus is the House of the Father inasmuch as the Son of God Himself is. For us, however, the Body of Jesus is the House of the Father for He is the Temple through which alone we can approach God. It is by the self-revelation of God in Him that we know God. He presents Himself to us as God’s own, “I am.” He does not do this apart from His Body. He comes to us through His Body.

As we come to abide in Him by grace, we abide in the Father’s House, the place of the divine mutual indwelling. It is in the Lord’s crucified and resurrected Body—His humanity from its very physicality to its heavenly spirit—that we participate in salvation.

As the suggestion of exchanging bodies with someone else might suggest, the boundaries of our individual humanity are not completely impermeable. We do indeed have a body, even though at any given moment we are identical to this body, yet what we really have is a bodily nature. If the body should change—and it does constantly in actually—we remain intact. This is also true of our soul, though this is harder to conceive. Our bodily nature is something that we share with each other, and with our Lord Jesus. It is this nature—our own nature—that has been transformed in Him by the transformation of His distinct and particular human Body. In Him our human nature, our bodies, partake in what His Body has become. This is not unfolded at once. This sanctification of our human nature is unfolded very gradually. Indeed, are still subject to the judgment of God in this world. The day will come, however, when—in the Kingdom of God—we will be raised from the dead and our human nature will participate in the glorification that has overtaken His own.

For now, when we receive the Holy Spirit we become the Father’s House on earth. In this House we abide in Christ as He abides in us. We receive the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ, by “believing into” Christ, as John likes to say. This being in Christ through the Holy Spirit being in us, this literal participation in the Body of Jesus, is the reality of the church and of the fellowship that we have with one another.

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