Article 52 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
The Temple in Jerusalem was first built by King Solomon around 957 BC. It was a place of ancient Israelite and later Jewish worship. The temple was totally destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC when they sacked the city.
According to the Old Testament Book of Ezra, construction of a second Temple began in 538 BC and was completed 23 years later in 515 BC. Around 20 BC the building was renovated and expanded by Herod the Great and became known as Herod’s Temple. It dominated the Jerusalem skyline and could be seen from all locations in the city.
We are all familiar with the Temple from the readings at Sunday Mass, our Religious Education classes and our own reading of Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels. No doubt, as the Catechism affirms, Jesus “expressed the deepest respect for the Temple in Jerusalem” (ccc 583).
For Jesus, “the Temple was the dwelling of his Father, a house of prayer” (ccc 584). Jesus prayed there (Mark 11:12–19), preached there and chased away money changers and other merchants from the courtyard, turning over their tables and accusing them of desecrating a sacred place (see Matthew 21:13). According to the Gospels, “it was in the Temple that Joseph and Mary presented Jesus forty days after his birth” (see Luke 2:22). They attended festivals there (see Luke 2:41) including at the age of 12 when he decided “to remain in the Temple to remind his parents that he must be about his Father’s business” (ccc 583). Jesus also “went there each year during his hidden life at least for Passover” (ccc 583). According to the Acts of the Apostles, the events of Pentecost probably took place at the Temple as well (see Acts 2:5).
Jesus predicts the destruction of this second Temple (Matthew 24:2) and allegorically compares his body to a Temple that will be torn down and raised up again in three days (John 2:21). This idea, of the Temple as the Body of Christ, became a rich and multi-layered theme in medieval Christian thought (where Temple/body was understood as the heavenly body of Jesus, the ecclesial body of the Church, and the Eucharistic body of Christ on the altar).
On the threshold of his Passion Jesus announced the coming destruction of the Temple, of which there would not remain “one stone upon another” (Matthew 24:1-2). By doing so, he announced a sign of the last days, which were to begin with his own Passover (Matthew 24:3). “But this prophecy would be distorted in its telling by false witnesses during his interrogation at the high priest’s house, and would be thrown back at him as an insult when he was nailed to the cross” (ccc 585).
What we often forget is not only that Jesus saw the Temple “as the privileged place of encounter with God” (ccc 584) but he “was (even) willing to pay the Temple-tax” (ccc 586) and “after his Resurrection his apostles retained their reverence for the Temple” (ccc 584).
Many of the religious authorities agreed that Jesus was disrespectful toward the Temple but what annoyed them more was “his role in the redemption of sins” (ccc 587). This “was the true stumbling-block” for Israel’s religious authorities. He “scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners” (ccc 588). He “gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God’s own attitude toward them” (ccc 589). It was most especially, however, “by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma” (ccc 589). By forgiving sins Jesus is either “blaspheming as a man who made himself God’s equal, or is speaking the truth and his person really does make present and reveal God’s name” (ccc 589).
The Catechism explains that “Jesus asked the religious authorities of Jerusalem to believe in him because of the Father’s works which he accomplished” (ccc 591). In the end, however, the Sanhedrin misunderstood Jesus and had him killed on charges of blasphemy. They acted “out of ‘ignorance’ and the ‘hardness’ of their ‘unbelief’” (ccc 591).
The Temple prefigures Jesus’ own mystery. When he announces its destruction, it is as a manifestation of his own execution and of the entry into a new age in the history of salvation, when his Body would become the definitive Temple.
Many of the deeds that Jesus performed like pardoning people’s sins indicated that he was the “Messiah”; the Savior God whom people prayed for (see John 5:16-18). Certain Jews, like Pharisees and Sadducees, did not recognize nor acknowledge Jesus in this way as “God made man” (see John 1:14). Rather, they saw in him “only a man who made himself God” (ccc 594) and judged him as the worst kind of blasphemer (John 10:33).