13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 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. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13-22 (ESV)
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” This is the sign that Jesus offers to the Jews, John’s word for the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jewish nation, who want a sign from Jesus to show that he has authority to sack the temple the way he does, driving out the sheep and cattle, pouring the money onto the ground and turning tables. The Jews think he is talking about the building, which they will end up destroying because they continue to carry on in such a way that can only invite the wrath of God who will visit their iniquities in 70 Ad when the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the temple. But the disciples remember this after Jesus is raised from the dead and realize that he was speaking of his body.
It wouldn’t be something someone would catch right away. A sort of double entendre whose true meaning could only be disclosed in the resurrection of Jesus, upon which Jesus build’s his church, the temple of the New Testament, the body of Christ into which we have all been incorporated in baptism, like living stones fitted to one another. No one would catch all of this, because no one ever talked of their bodies being temples in the Old Testament, or the temple. The temple was a building in Jerusalem where the name of God dwelt, and if you wanted to worship him, you went there. There he would be for you in his mercy and grace, to bestow upon you forgiveness and holiness.
And that is essentially what a temple is, the place where God dwells. And since in baptism God has sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in you, your body is now a temple of God. It is this that Paul picks up on in his body of work and uses to great effect, sometimes speaking of your body, with you in the plural, meaning the entire church together as a body of people being the temple of God that should not be destroyed by false doctrine, gossiping, back biting and quarreling that otherwise seems to occur wherever sinners gather together, and yet still most acutely also talking of your body, you in the singular, as also being a temple of God and this a warning not to desecrate yourself with fornication, adultery and prostitution. Your body he says is a temple, is sanctified, consecrated to God, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells, all other sins he says are done outside the body, drunkenness, theft, murder, gossiping, gluttony and sloth are all done outside the body, but fornication is a sin against your own body, the temple of God, the body of Christ you abuse when you visit a prostitute.
I find it odd, today people run rampant with the concept of our bodies as being temples. I first encountered the renewed interest in this concept when it came to smoking. A Baptist was telling me that the reason a person shouldn’t smoke is that their bodies were temples, and we shouldn’t destroy or foul God’s dwelling. I tell you I’ve had to scratch my head on that one for quite some time. He was not impressed when I pointed out to him that in the Old Testament the temple was constantly filled with the smoke of burning sacrifices and incense which God considered to be a pleasing aroma. And if he thought that was a pleasing scent, how could he have anything against pipes and cigars? I can come up with a hundred reasons not to smoke, but this just misses the point of our bodies as being temples, as does the use of this concept to urge people on diets, I would think God likes a good expansion project where his temple is concerned. I therefore had to face palm when flipping channels one morning I heard a girl recommending an exercise program set to “Christian” music saying, “I’m going to have a hot temple.” Really? Have we come to this?
When Paul speaks of our body being a temple, he is speaking about more than our skin and bones, the blood and guts, the internal organs that we normally think of when we hear the word body. He is speaking about much more. Not less, mind you, but about more than that. This body, it doesn’t really matter how well you take care of it, it doesn’t take good care of you. This body is worm food, a sack of maggots as Luther once called his, it is infected already with sin and death, in a manner of speaking it is already dead. There will come a time when this body is good for nothing but pushing up daisies, when in the words of “The Hearse Song”; “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle upon your snout.” This is why even sins that affect our bodies to a high degree, drunkenness, gluttony, drug abuse, not to mention the sins resulting from our narcissism such as bulimia, and other eating disorders, Paul still says they are outside our body. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them seriously. But this is also why perhaps bragging that your temple is sexy or hot sort of sounds like a clanging gong. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being beautiful, or working out and dieting, or otherwise doing things to make yourself attractive, makeup and jewelry, dressing in such a way that shows you actually care about others. But to use the word temple in relation to this is to miss the point. What Paul is speaking about is the person as a concrete whole, that person that becomes one, one flesh, one body with a spouse. This is why Paul talks about the attractiveness of Christian women not being in braided hair or jewelry, but pass all that into their soul in such things as modesty, and self-control, this is the apparel with which a woman makes herself truly beautiful. A beauty that is more than skin deep. This is the sort of thing that is behind Paul’s use of the word body. This body is a body shaped by fasting and prayer, a body cleansed in baptism, a body nourished on the body and blood of Jesus Christ where it receives the forgiveness of sins.
It wasn’t just the flesh and bones raised up on the third day that constituted the temple of which Christ spoke, but his whole entire being, body and soul as we would say, not a zombie, but him as a person with a personality. In Hebrew thought and language there is no real separation of body and soul. Destroy the one, destroy the other. Raise the one, and raise the other. Heart and soul as we might say, in Hebrew only context allows for us to differentiate this meaning in the word because the word is the same for bowels, the kind that spill out from King Eglon when Ehud runs him through with his left handed sword. This is why Paul warns against prostitution, because you become one flesh with her, one body, its union that lasts long after the event. In the sexual act two people are joined together so intimately that they become one body together. What God has joined together let no man tear asunder. This happens to your body, it effects your entire being. What God has created to be a wonderful communion between two people is destroyed by our attempts at cheap pleasure, to use another for our own ends without concern for them, or ourselves for that matter. This is a sin against our body, even as abuse of our spouse, is self-abuse. A man who hates his wife hates himself, Paul says, so a woman who hates her husband hates herself. You are one in God. One body, and your body is a temple, even as the body of Jesus is a temple, the dwelling place of God himself, a temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days that your body, the temple of God, would be raised together with the whole body of Christ, his temple on the last day, because when your body is joined to his body, when we become one flesh with him who is eternal, then yes, we too rise from the dead, our bodies from the grave as his body, the bride of Christ sanctified in the washing of water and the word, that is consecrated as his temple, a temple of living stones raised from the dead through his resurrection, because God does not let his temple be destroyed.