Jesus’ Perspective on the Temple: A Reconsideration in Light of his Jewish Context

Christ Cleansing the Temple by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.PIntroduction

Broadly considering Jesus within his first-century context, a picture arises of him as an apocalyptic prophet heralding the Kingdom of God, Jesus maintained a positive view of the Temple while concurrently participating in the Temple cult, critiquing its corrupted practices, and reconstituting its central role and exclusive stance toward others. Jesus challenged the Temple as the unique place for worship, prayer, justice, forgiveness and sacrifices, expanding the who, where, and how of encountering God with the coming of the Kingdom.



Throughout its history, the Jerusalem Temple has been the site of faithful devotion, the focus of prophetic critique, the source of untold sorrow (in its destruction), and the house of occasional corruption. As a faithful first-century Jew, Jesus regularly interacted with the Temple, and the Temple cult, beginning with his circumcision on the eighth day of his life. As an adult, Jesus’ teaching and actions can only be fully understood against the backdrop of Second Temple Judaism.

Reformation-era, or contemporary views of the Church on Judaism, the cult and Temple cannot be anachronistically applied to Jesus’ perspectives. The success of the New Perspective on Paul has produced significant reconsiderations of Judaism and encouraged rereading of the Pauline epistles. A similar re-discovery of Jesus and his jewishness has led to increased interest in and awareness of his historical context. However, the impact has been limited in its scope, particularly in regard to what Jesus thought about the Temple. Certain acts, like the “Temple cleansing” receive substantial attention, to the detriment and dismissal of other less confrontational Temple encounters.

A brief consideration of Jesus’ perspective on the Temple reveals Jesus heralded the Kingdom of God as an apocalyptic prophet. He viewed the Temple positively throughout his life, participating actively in the Temple cult, albeit while critiquing its corruption. Most significantly, Jesus reconstituted the Temple’s central claims on devotion, particularly in the areas of worship, prayer, justice, forgiveness and sacrifices. In the coming kingdom, these acts would find expression in a variety of new places, by new people, and in new ways. This re-imagination is consistent with a broadening trajectory begun after the exile, and heightened during the Second Temple period. Interestingly, this trajectory also found parallel expression within the development of rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, as acts once at home in the Temple were reconfigured outside its confines.

A blog environment is not the best setting for an academic paper, as footnotes and formatting are not supported. The “Introduction” above contains the thesis of this paper, and the “Conclusion” is where I land in the discussion. To read the paper in its entirety, click here.