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Yah'shua (Jesus)




    Yah'shua, the Temple and
    Torah in the Fourth Gospel
    (17 May 1983)

    by Christopher C. Warren, M.A.(Oxon)

    Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11
    12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21

    I. The Temple

    When Mark began his gospel he used two Old Testament texts to head the narrative. One of them was a quotation from Malachi: "Behold, I send My messenger before thy face" (Mk.1:2). In the original, the text continued: "and Yahweh whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple (hêkal)" (Mal.3:1). It is not wholly outside the bounds of possibility that John, and the synoptists before him, saw an actual enactment of that prophecy in the story of the cleansing of the temple.

    But the reader of the Fourth Gospel must put two questions to himself as he comes to this story. First, why has John so changed the content of the story? He has done this, not by the addition of some details, such as the mention of a whip, and of the sheep and oxen, but by the application of quite different Old Testament references, and by the introduction of a saying of Yah'shua (Jesus) about the destruction of the temple. And second, why has John placed the strange incident at the very beginning of his narrative, instead of keeping it, as the other evangelists do, to the last days of Yah'shua's (Jesus') life? The two questions, though distinct, are not unrelated, and tell us not only Yah'shua's (Jesus') attitude towards the temple but also the way in which John perceived this attitude.

    Mark tells us that Yah'shua (Jesus) came into the temple after He had been welcomed by the crowds as a messianic King (Mk.11:1-10). Upon entering the temple, Yah'shua (Jesus) "began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and He would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple" (Mk.11:15-16). This action has often been interpreted as a protest in unmistakable deed against the commercialisation of the sacred temple. And one part of John's narrative seems to support such an understanding. But in view of Mark's scripture, "and He taught them and said to them, 'Is it not written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations?" But you have made it a den of robbers'" (Mk.11:17), it seems erroneous, particularly if the question is asked as to what sort of justification the action gave to the chief priests and scribes (Torah-teachers) in their consequent decision to destroy Yah'shua (Jesus) (Mk.11:18). The major premise of Yah'shua's (Jesus') argument in the temple consists of the quotation from Isaiah 56:7 - "My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations". It has often been unnoticed or forgotten that what Yah'shua (Jesus) did in the temple was to rid it of the obvious removable symbols of Talmudic Judaism that kept its temple to itself. There was a 'court of the Gentiles' at the temple! Beyond it no gentile dared venture, under threat and penalty of death. So little was Yahweh's temple a house of prayer for all nations! Again the presence of the moneychangers is the temple precincts was not objectionable for the sole and superficial reason that it was degrading to introduce commerce into a holy place, but because the need for money to be changed rested upon the Judeans' (Jews') insistence that their religion must not be defiled by having the animals required for sacrifice in the temple paid for in Gentile money. Gentile coins, as well as Gentile persons, were intolerable to the Judeans (Jews) in their temple. If the following quotation from Jeremiah 7:11 is interpreted in this light, then the accusation of becoming a den of thieves is seen to be, not a protest at the 'robbery' of commerce, conducted well or ill, but a condemnation, as in the context of Jeremiah, of those who commit injustice and think that by preserving the outward symbols of religion, and particularly the worship of the temple, they can escape the judgement of Yahweh. In a word, the double quotation of scripture means that Yah'shua (Jesus) is protesting that Israel has failed to fulfil her universal mission to mankind, and has thought that she could 'get away with it' by preserving the mere externals of ceremonial and sacrificial worship in the temple. Such a protest, directed at the roots of the accepted religion of the day, not unnaturally evoked the final hostility of the religious leaders. Yah'shua (Jesus) sought a radically new direction to religious life; officialdom neither accepted His criticisms nor, be it acknowledged, saw its validity.

    Against this synoptic background John's account is manifestly an attempt to probe somewhat deeper, not indeed in order to add something new, but rather to expose the fundamental elements in the situation the synoptists had recorded. The first indication of his purpose is found in the statement that Yah'shua (Jesus) found in the temple "those who were selling oxen and sheep" (Jn.2:14). Sheep and oxen were required for the sacrifices of the temple, and by emphasising their place in the story John is indicating that it was not simply an advance from particulars to universalism that Yah'shua (Jesus) was demanding, but also a passage from sacrificial worship to spiritual worship (this is made abundantly clear in His discourse with the woman of Samaria whom He informs that the temple at Mt.Gerezim as well as Mt.Moriah in Jerusalem will pass away because from now on Yahweh is to be worshipped "in spirit"). "Take these things away" (Jn.2:16) expresses this, and so becomes the major premise for the reference to "trade", as the question from Isaiah had been in Mark's gospel. The buying and selling that was necessary if the sacrificial worship of Judaism was to continue in the situation of the Holy Land as a Roman-occupied territory would be entirely superseded when the demand for sacrifice was done away.

    At this stage of his narrative John records what was the interpretation of the incident made by the disciples at the time. They remembered the scripture, "Zeal for thy house will consume me," a quotation from Psalm 69:9. In this psalm the writer is deeply afflicted, and traces his troubles to the fact that the disciples not only perceived that Yah'shua (Jesus) was concerned for the honour of the temple, but that He could not act as He did without bringing suffering upon Himself. It may even be that, like the Psalmist, they had some confidence that, even if Yahweh were to permit their Master to suffer, that would not be the end of the story, but that finally He would "praise the name of Elohim (God) with a song ... This will please Yahweh more than an ox, or a bull with horns and hoofs" (Ps.69:30-31). However that may be, John is emphatic in stating that later on, after the resurrection, the disciples came to see even more profound meaning in Yah'shua's (Jesus') cleansing of the temple (cp. Jn.2:22).

    After Yah'shua (Jesus) had driven out the animals and men concerned with the traffic in the temple, the Judeans (Jews) asked Him for His warrant: "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" (Jn.2:18). Though this is not recorded in Mark at the same time as the cleansing itself, the evangelist records an interrogation of Yah'shua (Jesus) by the authorities on the following day. "By what authority do you do these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?" Mark records an answer to this question by which Yah'shua (Jesus) silences His opponents: He asks them for their opinion as to the source of John's baptism! But in the fourth gospel the answer to the "sign" goes to the heart of the evangelist's understanding of the gospel.

    John has replaced Mark's question about authority with the one about a "sign". This is not only to keep the language of the earlier parts of Mark's narrative, where Yah'shua (Jesus) had been asked for a sign (cp. Mk.8:11-12), but to advance into the rich and profound vocabulary of the fourth gospel. In Mark 8:11 the Pharisees asked Yah'shua (Jesus) for a sign from heaven, meaning that if He could produce some heavenly portent which it was not in the power of an ordinary mortal to produce then they would be able to accept what would be given. In a real and profound sense John echoes that answer from Mark. But when Matthew (12:38-39) and Luke (11:29) take up Mark's narrative they enlarge upon Yah'shua's (Jesus') answer by making Him say: "No sign shall be given ... except the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Mt.12:38; Lk.11:29). The two evangelists differ in their interpretations of this further saying, but Matthew interprets it as referring to the resurrection (Mt.12:40). John has evidently drawn from a diversity of synoptic material to imbue his story of the cleansing with its essential meaning. And he adds one further synoptic saying to round off his commentary. To the Judeans' (Jews') request for a sign Yah'shua (Jesus) answered: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn.2:19). Neither Mark nor Matthew give an occasion when this saying was uttered, but offer it as the substance of the evidence given against Yah'shua (Jesus) at His trial (Mk.14:58; Mt.26:61). Thus they are not required to offer an interpretation of it, though to Christian ears at least, the very phrase "in three days" would have recalled the miracle of the resurrection. John thus openly identifies the meaning with a foretelling of the death and resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus).

    Yah'shua's (Jesus') attitude to the temple is therefore that (a) it was a sacred place that had been corrupted by commercialism; (b) it was a symbol of His resurrection; (c) it had been corrupted by Judean (Jewish) nationalism; and (d) it was to be done away with in the New Covenant dispensation. He also regarded it as a place of instruction for on several occasions in the fourth gospel He Himself taught there (Jn.7:14,28; 8:2,20,59; 10:23; 18:20). As the last great sacrifice, the Temple was to become redundant after His resurrection whereafter Yahweh was to be worshipped in "spirit and truth".

    II. The Torah

    Yah'shua's (Jesus') attitude to Torah (the Law) was always one of respect and reverence at a time when it had become twisted in a corrupt and hypocritical Judean (Jewish) society. It should always be remembered that as the revelation of Elohim (God), and as the agent of Yahweh, Yah'shua (Jesus) was in truth the Creator and instigator (as the Angel/Messenger of Yahweh) of the very Torah that He came to fulfil (complete). And thus His mission was also portrayed as one of fulfilment rather than one of revolution for He was frequently accused of trying to overturn Torah for His own personalised religious ends.

    John introduces the relationship between Yah'shua (Jesus) and Torah in the Prologue when he explains that "Torah (the Law) was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ)" (Jn.1:17) [1], indicating that Yah'shua (Jesus) was bringing something much higher than the code revealed to Moses on Mt.Horeb, which would be the means of bringing Torah to its final and complete revelation. John is further keen to point out that Yah'shua (Jesus) was the personified realisation of Torah which was itself only a shadow of the mission of Christ, and that the scriptures testified of Him. Thus Philip was able to testify that "we have found Him of whom Moses in Torah (the Law) and also the Nebi'im (Prophets) wrote, Yah'shua (Jesus) of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (Jn.1:45).

    The story of the Gospel is essentially about the conflicts between Yah'shua (Jesus) and the authorities of the time whose interpretations of Torah [2] were far from its original meaning and intention. The Judean (Jewish) authorities had acquired their positions of power not through any calling by Yahweh but through political intrigue [3]. Though formally educated in the Torah they lacked the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) and were unable to appreciate its spiritual angle. Thus Torah to them was, to all intents and purposes, dead, a fact that Yah'shua (Jesus) never failed to remind them of when they attempted to refute Him. One of the earliest conflicts between the Judean (Jewish) authorities and Yah'shua (Jesus) occurred during the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) which Yah'shua (Jesus) had come to celebrate in Jerusalem. He entered the temple into a situation of confusion and disagreement concerning Himself, and clarified the matter by claiming to be an emissary of Yahweh and that His teaching was the Word of Elohim (God). The Judeans (Jews) were not able to believe Him because they did not believe in Elohim (God) themselves or in the Torah given through Moses, so John says, which pointed to Yah'shua (Jesus). Had they understood the relationship between the Sabbath and circumcision in Torah, they would not have been offended at the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath. Yah'shua's (Jesus') argument for healing on the Sabbath is that since the healing of the whole body is greater than circumcision, then why should He not heal on the Sabbath when the Judeans (Jews) circumcised on the Sabbath, in obedience to Moses and Torah? Yah'shua (Jesus) claims to heal on the Sabbath in obedience to His Father, Yahweh. Thus Yah'shua (Jesus) neatly exposes the Judeans' (Jews') hypocrisy (Jn.7:14-24).

    There is even division amongst the Pharisees and Scribes (Torah-teachers) on the interpretation of Torah (the Law) and the Nebi'im (Prophets), as is evidenced by the fact that they could not agree whether the Messiah (Christ) fulfilled prophecy in being a Galillean (Jn.7:40-44) for the expected Messiah was to have been a Bethlehemite.

    A further example of Yah'shua's (Jesus') attitude to Torah came in His handling of the case of the woman caught in adultery. Though Torah required that an adulterer be stoned to death, Yah'shua (Jesus) revealed a higher (more spiritual) law when He acquitted the woman after her accusers had proven themselves unworthy to execute the judgement of Torah. The point that John was making was that only Yah'shua (Jesus) was sinless and could execute judgement, that His Torah was higher, more just, and more merciful, supplanting the Torah of carnal commandments that was given in Sinai (Jn.7:53-8:11) [4].

    Yah'shua (Jesus) used Torah to protect Himself on at least one occasion and to justify His claims and actions. The Judeans (Jews) had accused Him of blasphemy (a crime punishable by death), accusing Him of making Himself Elohim (God) by claiming to be the Son of Elohim (God). So He quotes Psalm 82:6 in which the rulers and judges of Israel are addressed as elohim ('gods'). His argument is that if those who received Torah (the Word of Elohim/God) are called elohim (gods), how much more it is right that the unique agent of Elohim (God, called the "Word") should speak of Himself as the Son of Elohim (God). Though trapped by the Torah they professed to believe, the Judeans (Jews) would hear nothing of it and attempted to apprehend and kill Yah'shua (Jesus) (Jn.10:22-39). In another example of Yah'shua's (Jesus') full exploitation of Torah, we find Him applying the law of witness to Himself. Since the testimony of two men is true in Hebrew Law, Yah'shua (Jesus) declares, then He must be who He says He is, because He is bearing witness to Himself, and the Father (Yahweh) is bearing witness to Him (Jn.8:16-18). It is perhaps not unsurprising that the Judeans (Jews) object that Yah'shua (Jesus) bears witness to Himself and that He speaks of a Father who bears witness to Him but cannot be produced to testify, which all goes to show their spiritual narrow-mindedness and lack of understanding [5].

    In the end the Judeans (Jews) persuade Pilate to allow them to try Yah'shua (Jesus) on account of His supposed infraction of the law of blasphemy in claiming to be the Son of Elohim (God) (Jn.19:7), little knowing that they were in fact helping fulfil Torah which spoke in shadows of the vicarious sacrifice of the Son of Elohim (God), the Passover (Pesach) Lamb, that was to bring to an end the preparatory Old Covenant ceremonial Torah they so enthusiastically professed but which in truth they denied. The Judeans (Jews) further fulfilled prophecy which stated that they would hate Him without a cause (Jn.15:25, cp. Ps.35:19 or 69:4).

    Therefore the picture that John paints in the fourth gospel is of a Messiah (Christ), the author of the Old Covenant Torah, who has come to supersede the ceremonial aspect, and complete the moral and ethical aspect, with a New Covenant Torah, all the while adhering to it to the letter until the New Testament dispensation was inaugurated by His atoning sacrifice. He caught the Judeans (Jews) out who, professing to know and live Torah, knew nothing of the sort. Yah'shua (Jesus) repeatedly referred back to prophecy and the writings of Moses in order to justify Himself and indeed in order not to contradict His own word as the author of Torah. He tried to show the disbelieving generation of His day that Torah pointed towards Him but could not convince them that it was a schoolmaster of better things. They had long since died as to the spirit of Torah and were using it merely as an external form whilst neglecting the weightier matters of justice and mercy. Their pride and arrogance had precluded any conversion possibilities except for a few.


    [1] Compare with 2 Cor.3:6-16. This verse neither demeans Moses nor Torah. Elsewhere Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself says that He did not come to do away with the Torah but to bring it to completion or 'fill it out' (Mt.5:17), and proceeded to do this by interpreting the Torah that make its meaning and commandments even clearer (cp. Mt.5:21-48). "Grace and truth" have always been present, since the very first day of creation, and all ultimately come from Yahweh, being the supreme expressions of who He is (Rev.19:11). (27 February 2004)

    [2] As expressed in what today is known as the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds, the Mishnah, and other writings like the Zohar, etc., which gave rise to a mutated and apostate Old Testament faith known, respectively, as Talmudic (or Rabbinical) and Kabbalistic Judaism. (27 February 2004)

    [3] See D.S.Russel, The Jews from Alexander to Herod (New Clarendon Bible, Oxford University Press, 1967).

    [4] Scholars have questioned whether this account of the woman taken in adultery was in the original MS. My belief is that it probably was. A possible explanation for its absence in some MSS (cp. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament) is that it was a piece of oral tradition which circulated in certain parts of the Western Messianic Community (Church) and which was subsequently incorporated into various MSS in various places such as after Luke 21:38 or after John 7:36, after 7:52 or even after 21:24. It is absent in the Old Syriac and Aramaic Peshitta. Papias says that it appeared in an apocryphal Gospel According to the Hebrews. Irrespective of whether John actually incorporated it, the early Messianic Community evidently felt it was of sufficient authority to be included in at least one of the Gospels. (27 February 2004)

    [5] In fact the Father bore witness audibly and symbolically at Yah'shua's (Jesus') baptism (Jn.1:29-34). (27 February 2004)

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