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Jesus Christ: The New and Perfect Temple

[1]The Holy Gospel According to John is the most “mystical” of all the holy scriptures.

In fact, this book is so “deep” and filled with Mystery that the Church only reads it during the Paschal season (there are no catechumens left, all having been baptized on Holy Saturday), as it should not be shared with the uninitiated.

It shows an absolute disregard for the sanctity of the scriptures (and a lack of understanding or historical grounding) that people would today use this particular Gospel as an “evangelization tool.” But, I digress.

One of the central themes (and it would be easy to identify dozens of “central” themes) of this Gospel is that Jesus Christ has recreated the Temple in Himself (and therefore in the Church, as the Body of Christ). There are many scholarly places where this subject has been poured over in great detail (listed at the end of this post for further reading, should you so desire). As usual, my hope is to “boil it down” for everyone to see and understand as easily as possible.

In John’s Gospel, we not only see the Temple recreated through the ministry and miracles of Christ, but also a fulfillment of the three great feasts of the Temple’s liturgical, annual cycle: Pentecost, Passover and Tabernacles (in addition, the feast of Dedication, which began in the time of the Maccabean revolt). It is during these great feasts that Christ performs the seven “signs,” and each of these signs in turn teach us about both Baptism and the Eucharist, as well.

The Temple was the center of Judean worship and life in the time of Christ. Men from all over would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem in order to participate in the three great feasts, and these were all occasions where the men had to be baptized (a washing for ritual purity), offer sacrifice, and then feast on the meat, bread and wine of the Temple sacrifice (and all for the forgiveness of sins). To miss the connection here with Christian worship would be a grave injustice to holy scripture. Christian worship has not “done away with” the Temple worship, it has fulfilled it (or “Christened it”) in Christ. Worship comes from God alone, and is eternally binding (as the scriptures teach about these festivals and celebrations). These ceremonies were taken up by the apostles and their successors and then “baptized” into the Christian and new covenant context (not abrogated or eliminated).

These festivals are all mentioned in the Gospel at successive times, and it is during them that Christ performs his seven “signs,” with each one being a fulfillment of the teaching and liturgical/scriptural readings of the feasts themselves. The order goes as follows:

As an aside (and as someone interested in the canon of scripture), I must point out to our evangelical friends that Jesus participated in and performed miracles during the feast of Dedication, a festival that is recorded in the book of Maccabees — a series of writings that Protestants do not hold to be inspired scripture. This creates a problem for their canon, to say the least.

The clear connection between Jesus and the Temple is not limited to these festivals alone, but can be found throughout John’s Gospel as well as in other scriptures (e.g. St Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews). St John writes of the Logos that “became flesh and tabernacled among us” (St John 1:14), a clear indication of Christ’s mission, as well as “you shall see angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (St John 1:51) which reminds us of both Jacob’s sanctuary and the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.

One might say that all of Christ’s life as recorded in this Gospel does the work of mystagogy; that is, the “revelation of mysteries” (or the “explanation” of the reality of things). While showing Himself to now be the true Temple, Christ has fulfilled and given true meaning behind the Temple itself. This is why the eastern churches much prefer the word “mysteries” for things like Baptism and the Eucharist, I think, rather than “sacraments.” Sacrament usually speaks of the bread, water or wine, while “mystery” speaks to the heavenly reality of such things — in other words, what bread, water and wine truly are, in eternity.

For more reading on this subject, consult the following: