7 Apr 2021

Jesus & The Temple: Freaky Facts

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Patternism, Worship
A view of the Court of Women, the 15 steps leading to the Nicanor Gate. Solomon’s Porch is located on the eastern side of the Court of Women where the Way met (Acts 5.12, etc)

Many times the images that lie hidden deep within our subterranean mind influence us in profound ways. These images are frequently never on the surface but their power is undeniable. What makes them insidious is they often skew how we interpret “reality.” Today’s Freaky Jesus Facts looks at a few facts that just might unsettle our minds and also help us read both the Gospels and Acts much better.

1) Freaky Fact. The Temple is a powerful theme and symbol that is ubiquitous in the Bible. To use an analogy (which has limitations), the Temple is like a wedding ring. It is incredibly an emotive symbol that points to something far more than metal and rock.

2) Freaky Fact. Jesus loved and revered the Temple. Like many Jews he may argue with the power structures running the temple, but the Temple itself, its worship, what it is, Jesus loved to be there. He called it “my Father’s house” (Lk 2.49; Jn 2.16f).

3) Freaky Facts. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus made the annual pilgrimages to the Temple. Those great worship festivals became the occasion for worship and teaching by Jesus. Jesus’s discussion with Nicodemus takes place either during or immediately after Passover/Unleavened Bread mentioned explicitly in 2.13, 23 and helps explain the allusions to Exodus/Numbers narrative.

John 5.1, Jesus walks back to Jerusalem and the Temple. Though this festival is unnamed scholars have often identified with Weeks (Pentecost). Some have identified it as Purim (cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Temple, p. 332).

In John 7-8, Jesus has yet again walked to the Temple for the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles (cf. 7.2, 10, 14). And yet again Jesus walked to the Temple for Hanukkah/Dedication in John 10.

And finally, of course, the Passover/Unleavened Bread which dominates the last half of the Gospel. Jesus got a lot of exercise journeying to the Temple to worship and to teach just like other rabbis in the courts. (See the discussion in John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine & Johnny Melton, A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Divine Encounter, pp. 30-33).

4) Freaky Facts. Neither Jesus nor his disciples nor the church that gathered in the Temple in Acts could ever get into the temple without doing two things. Jesus, James, the early church, Peter, John, Paul, could not enter the Temple without having paid their Temple tax and entered a mikvah to be purified. There were huge pools, like the Pool of Siloam, for ritual purification. Jesus, the disciples, the early church, and Paul, would not have gotten past the Levites guarding the Temple gates.

When we read the Gospels there are many hidden assumptions. We need to see in our minds Jesus entering into the mikveh, immersing himself, and soaking wet as he enters the Temple courts (See James H. Charlesworth’s, “Jesus and the Temple” in Jesus and Temple, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, pp. 145-181). This same reality is true for Acts 2, Acts 3, Acts 4, Acts 21, etc.

5) Freaky Facts. Jesus drove out the money changers from his “Father’s house” but not the musicians and dancers. In the biblical tradition there are two violent expulsions of people from the Temple: Heliodorus and the money changers. Second Maccabees 3.13-40 tells the story of the pagan General Heliodorus who intended to rob the sacred wares of the Temple and violate its sanctity. Led by the priest Onias, the people pray for the Lord to protect his house. As the General entered, a magnificent rider on a horse was manifested and struck Heliodorus on the forehead.

when he arrived at the treasury with his bodyguard, then and there the Sovereign of spirits and of all authority caused so great a manifestation that all who had been so bold as to accompany him were astounded by the power of God, and became faint with terror. For there appeared to them a magnificently caparisoned horse, with a rider of frightening mien; it rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck him with its front hoofs.” (2 Maccabees 3.24-25).

Then two “glorious men” flogged the General and finally a “deep darkness” fell on the pagan. God’s glory was manifest and Heliodorus recovered and became a follower of the God of Israel (2 Maccabees 3.35-40).

The second time was Jesus driving out the money changers. An episode recorded in all four Gospels though in different locations. Jesus taught in the Court of Women of the Temple frequently it is there that the “Treasury” was located and the occasion of the Lord’s memorable teaching about the widow’s two coins (Mk 12.41-44). He would come into the Court and see the Levites gathered on the fifteen semi-circular steps that rise. As the Mishnah relates,

Fifteen steps led from within it to the Court of the Israelites, corresponding to the fifteen Songs of Ascents in the Psalms, and upon them the Levites used to sing” (mMiddoth 2.5).

On these steps not only are the Levites singing the Psalms, they are playing instruments of cymbals, harps, and lyres and many other kinds of instruments. As we read,

There were chambers beneath the Court of the Israelites which opened into the Court of Women, and there the Levites played upon harps and lyres and the cymbals and all instruments of music” (mMiddoth 2.6).

These fifteen steps that lead up to the Nicanor Gate was a place of praise and often a place for large crowds of men and women. Within the Court of Women, twenty-four girls dance with seeming joy to the Lord holding colored fabrics and we hear this,

Praise Yahweh!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with the trumpet sound;
praise him with the lute and harp!
Praise him with the tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise Yahweh!
Praise Yahweh!

(Psalm 150)

Jesus sees this. Jesus regularly experiences this when he comes to his “Father’s house.” But not Jesus only. James, Peter, John, Paul and the entire Jerusalem church experienced this every time they gathered in the Temple to worship. And they did worship just as Paul says explicitly, “I went up to Jerusalem to worship … I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices” (Acts 24.11 & 17).

When Jesus had to protect the sanctity of his “Father’s house,” like Onias in 2 Maccabees and he drove uncleanness out as did that mystical rider on a horse, it was not the Levites with all kinds of instruments that he chased from the Temple. It was not even the women dancers that drew the ire of our Lord (cf. Pss 149.3; 150.4). What drew the anger of Jesus was the money changers, not singing, not dancing and not instruments. Makes you go, hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Jewish Mikvah. A person would descend into the pool via the steps then ascend out of the pool via the other set of steps.

It is just one of those Freaky Facts that will always be true.

When we put Jesus, and the early church, into the real world in which they really lived, many things become clearer and our assumptions fall by the way side.

The image of Jesus traveling with his Joseph, Mary, his brothers and sisters, to the Temple offering sacrifice during the festivals is a powerful one. The image of Jesus traveling with is disciples to do the same is powerful. Jesus and the disciples shared a sacrifice to the very end as the Passover eaten by Jesus included the sacrifice (cf. Luke 22.7-13; Mk 14.12-16). The mental image of Peter, John, James and Paul descending into a mikveh so they can enter the Temple to praise with the Saints is powerful is powerful indeed.

The image of Jesus, fresh from his immersion in the Pool of Siloam, singing joyfully, even shouting, clapping his hands to the music of the Songs of Ascent, even dancing a little in the Court of Women … just might help us from being so dour and argumentative about things that should never be an issue.

Of Related Interest:

Back to the Temple, AD 33: Time Machine Pilgrimage to the Temple and Early Church

Psalms and the Temple: What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced

2 Responses to “Jesus & The Temple: Freaky Facts”

  1. Monte Ray Hawk Says:

    I’ve seen all of Hollywood’s movies about Jesus. The portrayal was meant to show how Godlike he was. His Jewishness (manhood) was seldom dealt with.

  2. Phil Garner Says:

    Cools stuff my freaky friend. Thanks for sharing

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