2nd Temple Judaism, The Temple, and Biblical Theology

N.T. Wright, in Paul and the Faithfulness of God, has a section describing the worldviews of a 2nd temple Jew. He provides valuable insight in the purpose and function of the Temple. When matched with the Temple themes in the NT, a holistic change is brought forth. If he is right, it is no wonder early Christianity was not received well by the Jewish people, especially when it comes to the Temple.

But nonetheless, these comments do shed light for modern interpreters on the importance of knowing 2nd temple literature and having an idea of the contemporary worldviews because of its aid in shedding light on interpretation.

The point of the Temple—this is where I want to develop considerably further what was said in earlier volumes—is that it was where heaven and earth met. It was the place where Israel’s God, YHWH, had long ago promised to put his name, to make his glory present. The Temple, and before it the wilderness tabernacles, were thus heirs, within the biblical narrative, to moments like Jacob’s vision, the discovery that a particular spot on earth could intersect with, and be the gateway into, heaven itself. In the later period, even synagogues could sometimes be thought of as meeting places between heaven and earth; how much more the actual Temple. The Temple was not simply a convenient place to meet for worship. It was not even just the ‘single sanctuary’, the one and only place where sacrifice was to be offered in worship to the one God. It was the place above all where the twin halves of the good creation intersected. When you went up to the Temple, it was not as though you were ‘in heaven’. You were actually there. That was the point. Israel’s God did not have to leave heaven in order to come down and dwell in the wilderness tabernacle or the Jerusalem Temple. However surprising it may be for modern westerners to hear it, within the worldview formed by the ancient scriptures heaven and earth were always made to work together, to interlock and overlap. There might in principle be many places and ways in which this could happen, but the Jewish people had believed, throughout the millennium prior to Jesus, that the Jerusalem Temple was the place and the means par excellence for this strange and powerful mystery. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, 96–97.

This quote is fascinating, especially for the implications of the following verses (only a small selection of texts about the Temple):

Matt 12:6—I tell you, something greater than the temple is here

Matt 27:40—and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.

John 1:14—And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 2:19–21—Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

1 Cor 3:16–17—Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Eph 2:21–21—in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Pet 2:4–5—As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Rev 3:12—The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

Rev 21:22–27—And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

For more on the Temple and its relation to history and biblical theology, consult the following:

Samuel Terrien. The Elusive Presence: Toward a New Biblical Theology. Reprint. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2009.

G.K. Beale. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology 17. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004.

John Lundquist. The Temple of Jerusalem: Past, Present and Future. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007.

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