Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:5 (Holman) “Or haven’t you read in the Law that on Sabbath days
the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent?”
In verse four, Jesus used a history lesson to establish an important precedent. Kind deeds, the relieving of human necessities, know no Sabbath. Being kind is always the right and good thing to do, whatever the day of the week.
In verse five, Jesus used a contemporary event to set another vital precedent. It is always good to do good, especially those things that aid our worship of God.
The temple knew no Sabbath rest. For priests, the Sabbath was the week’s busiest work-day. They broke the strict letter of the law every Sabbath, yet no one complained or accused them of irreverence.
Activities that help us conduct public worship do not violate work restrictions mandated for a day of rest. If we were forbidden to plan or lead our assemblies, we would be prohibited from sharing public worship on Sabbath.
Holy day worship facilitators–preachers, singers, musicians, custodians, child care providers, security personnel, etc.–offer their work unto the Lord, the One to whom Sabbath directs us. Worship facilitators help us fulfill what Sabbath is for. Without them, Sabbath rest would hinder, not help, public worship.
Matt. 12:6 “But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here!”
If the earthly temple could overrule Sabbath laws, how much more could Jesus rightfully dispense with them? Being greater than the temple and the whole system it represented, anything Jesus allows His disciples to do is acceptable.
Everywhere Jesus stands is holy ground. When He stood in this grain-field, it became a temple. If priests could work in the Jerusalem temple on Sabbath, then Jesus’ disciples could on Sabbath pluck grain in a field-temple inhabited by God.
The Pharisees rightly believed only God is greater than the temple. They wrongly believed Jesus was not God. Thus, they would have considered His claim of being greater than the temple to be blasphemy.
Other claims were audacious enough. Claims to be greater than Moses (HB 3:3), Jonah (MT 12:41), Solomon (MT 12:42), Jacob (JN 4:12), and Abraham (JN 8:53), were counted as presumptions, but greater than the temple was intolerable.
Jesus’ claim to be divine forces us to grapple with the tripled dilemma and dichotomy set forth by Josh McDowell. We have to choose one of three stark, mutually exclusive, options: Jesus was either Lord, liar, or lunatic.
A fourth possibility–one accepted by many–that Jesus was merely a wise teacher, a good and kind man, a wonderful role model, is untenable, not viable.
He’s either Lord, God of very God as He claimed to be, or liar, a charlatan and shyster, or lunatic, an insane egomaniac. The riddle was solved once for all time on the Sunday morning after His crucifixion. Jesus “was established as the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4 Holman).
If Jesus rose from the dead, all of Christianity is true. If He didn’t, it is all a charade, a lie. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless” (1 C 15:17).
Praise God, based on corroborating evidence from many eyewitnesses, we know Jesus did rise from death, thereby proving He is God. This fact makes Him greater than the temple, for it was a building Israel had constructed in His honor.
The temple was merely God’s house, whereas Jesus was God’s treasured Son. God’s house existed for God’s Son. Those who live in the house are greater than the house lived in. Our President is greater than the White House, our Governor than the Governor’s mansion. Losing the residence would not be nearly as disastrous as losing the resident, for the person is much greater than the abode.
It would be bizarre for the Prime Minister to approach 10 Downing Street and be told he could not enter because he wasn’t important enough. The world would be aghast if the Queen was turned away from Buckingham Palace for being too insignificant. Yet this is precisely how Jesus was treated with regard to His own house. “Who are you? Why are you here? You’re not welcome. Go away.”
Mt. Zion, the temple site, was where God’s people for a thousand years had gathered to worship God corporately and publicly. Now God had come to them.
After the destruction of Solomon’s temple, one of history’s most beautiful buildings, Zerubbabel built a second temple, but it was plain, a disappointment to all who remembered the original building. Haggai the prophet encouraged the people, “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first” (2:9).
This greater glory was the fact that God would come walk in this temple. For this event it was built, but its keepers missed the significance of the moment.
Jesus was everything temple-worship pictured, the meeting place between God and people. He was the presence of God, not symbolically, but physically (JN 1:14). “In Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9).
Christ was, in human form, the embodiment of the Divine Essence, which in the form of smoke filled the temple, drove everyone temporarily out, and proved God was present in a special way.
Peter, James, and John were given a glimpse of His Divine Nature on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus “was transformed in front of them, and His face shone like the sun. Even His clothes became as white as the light” (MT 17:2).
We have not seen His glory with our eyes, but have experienced it in our spirits. “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned upon the Savior’s brow” (Stennet).
Jesus was the true sacrifice for our sins. The blood of bulls and goats was shed in the temple, but was not the blood that took away our sin, and made forgiveness possible. Animal blood merely foreshadowed perfect, divine blood yet to be shed. “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 C 5:19).
The temple, as glorious as it was, was still manmade. It had a beginning and an end, but Jesus was self-existent, eternal. He was, in the burning bush, fire needing no fuel to burn. An unconsumed bush was not the ultimate spectacle to Moses. The real amazement was fire which burned on its own, needing no fuel.
This fiery One’s essence spilled onto Mt. Zion to begin temple worship of Himself. The temple fires used to offer sacrifice were ignited by fire which fell from above. We know Jesus was the source of this fire, for after His ascension, He again sent down heavenly fire. This time it rested on the disciples at Pentecost.
Jesus was everything the temple was meant to be, and much much more. Had the religious leaders diverted toward Jesus their almost idolatrous love of the temple, they would have been okay.
In fact, in Israel’s veneration of the temple, we see previews of what our exaltation of Jesus ought to be like. David viewed Mt. Zion as the joy of the whole earth (PS 48:2). We should envision Christ the same way.
David longed and yearned for the temple courts (PS 84:2). We should have the same feeling for Jesus.
To the Pharisees, the temple had become more important than God, the One it was meant to promote and honor. Let’s not make the same mistake. Be sure Jesus is venerated most in all our ceremonies and set aside days. May our hearts be a wonderful haven, a holy of holies where He is exalted above all else.