John’s Gospel: Reflections on Chapters 1 and 2

The end of chapter 1 and chapter 2 of John include the calling of the apostles, the wedding feast at Cana, and the cleansing of the Temple.

The calling of the apostles

We’ve already considered the wedding feast at some length in the Introduction posts as well as in the verse-by-verse posts. So let’s look first at the calling of the apostles.

The apostles are, of course, very important characters in church history, and that fact alone suffices to explain why John included these (true) stories. But why only a few? Why not tell us about all 12?

You have to figure that the point of the stories is not to satisfy our curiosity about how Jesus called these heroes of the faith. The point must be something else.

Here, I think, is the theme —

(John 1:37 ESV) 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

(John 1:40 ESV) 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

(John 1:43 ESV) 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s about the call to follow Jesus, a call that began with the first to be called — the apostles — but which applies to all believers.

(John 8:12 ESV)  12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

(John 12:26 ESV) 26 “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

What does it mean to “follow” Jesus? Well, for the disciples of a rabbi, the literal meaning is as explained by Ray Vander Laan

“Follow the rabbi, drink in his words, and be covered with the dust of his feet,” says the ancient Jewish proverb. Disciples followed so closely that they would be covered with the dust kicked up by the rabbi’s feet.

For the modern Christian, we obviously can’t literally walk behind Jesus as the apostles did, but we can still be students of his life and his teachings with the goal of becoming just like our Rabbi — not just to learn his teachings and obey his commands, but to share in his character.

The cleansing of the Temple

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In short, Jesus came not only to cleanse the Temple but to replace the Temple. How is that?

Well, what was the significance of the Temple?

* Sacrifices to God were offered there.

* Sins were forgiven there.

* God’s blessings were celebrated there.

* Festivals thanking God were held there.

* Money was distributed to the poor there.

* The priests taught God’s word there.

* Worshipers were cleansed by washings there.

* Meals consisting of a sacrifice were eaten, symbolically with God as a thanks offering, there.

* God had a special presence there.

How did Jesus’ ministry parallel the purposes of the Temple? How does Jesus’ ministry now make the Temple unnecessary?

Now that Jesus is in heaven, there is a sense in which the true temple is now in heaven. For that reason, the scriptures sometimes refer to Jerusalem as being in heaven (“Jerusalem” is metonymy for the Temple, I think.)

(Gal 4:25-26 ESV) 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

The “Jerusalem above” is heaven, which is the true Temple because that’s where Jesus is.

(Heb 12:22-24 ESV)  22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The “heavenly Jerusalem” is again in heaven. The Greek word translated “heavenly” means “existing in heaven” according to Thayer’s.

(Rev 3:12 ESV) 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.

John prophesies that the heavenly Jerusalem will come down “out of heaven.”

(Rev 21:2 ESV) And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

(Rev 21:10-11 ESV)  10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God,  11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.

At the end of time, the heavenly Jerusalem/Temple will come to earth, at the same time that Jesus returns.

The presence of the true temple in heaven is a major theme of Hebrews, and this is built on a number of Old Testament prophecies (but I’ll not bore you with the details; they’re easy enough to look up).

But there’s also something on earth called God’s “temple” — the church.

(1Co 3:16-17 ESV) 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

(Eph 2:19-22 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

So how can it be that the temple is both in heaven, where Jesus is, and on earth in the form of the church? Well, the church is the body of Christ. It’s an extension of the person of Jesus himself. Jesus, in a sense, exists astride both heaven and earth, having a special presence in both places.

When the end of time comes, the two manifestations of the Temple will be joined, and the church and Jesus, heaven and earth, will be united.

In the meantime, the church’s mission is to work toward bringing the Temple to earth in its fullness — to bring forgiveness, the presence of Jesus (through the church and through the Spirit, and all the other missions of the Temple) to reality here on earth.

Now, if that’s so, and if worship occurs in the Temple and nowhere else (as we’ll discuss in chapter 4 relating to worship in Spirit and in truth), then what is worship in the sense under consideration here. If the place of worship is no longer the Temple in the earthly Jerusalem but the Temple as it exists today, what is worship now? (And don’t forget these points when we get to chapter 4.)

This, by the way, helps explain why Jesus said,

(John 2:19-21 ESV)  19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”  21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body.

Jesus wasn’t being cute or dodging the question. He was actually being very open — revealing that the Temple would be replaced by himself and his body.

[PS — I’m going to re-date this post in a few days so it’ll appear in the right order the table to the right. It would help if I’d bother to organize my thoughts more linearly. But the reality is I had to sort through chapter 4 to understand chapter 2. You know, you really have to read John more than once to get the nuances.]

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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