24: The Greatest Sign Of All (John 2:18-22)

24: The Greatest Sign Of All (John 2:18-22)

24. The Greatest Sign Of All

John has another reason for putting this story of the clearing of the temple right at the beginning of his account of Jesus’ ministry. He is making a point within a point. Yes, the driving out of the tradesmen is important but the discourse that happens afterwards is even more important.

Jesus does this more than once. He deliberately acts in such a way to get a big reaction from the religious leaders, which then opens the door for deeper truth to come out. The healing of the blind man in chapter 8 is a great example of this. He knows that if these people are to really get to know His Father then He is going to have to cut through the religious nonsense that has blinded them for centuries.

I get the feeling, looking at church history, that occasionally He still has to do the same thing. He has to act provocatively in such a way that gets a reaction from church leaders. Maybe, when that happens, it is sometimes a sign that our rules and traditions are getting in the way of us helping others to see His Father for who He really is. Maybe when we react to something that God may be doing, our first question should be: “Why did I react to that as I did?”

Maybe we will discover that we are doing something that is blinding the eyes of people to who the Father really is.

Jesus used this method for the first time here. Yes, he wants us to know that the temple is His Father’s house and He is passionate that any activity occurring in it should be a true reflection of who His Father really is. But then he takes us to a deeper truth and the door to seeing that truth is opened by the indignant response of the religious leaders.

Again the disciples only get the revelation later on, finally after Jesus’ death and resurrection, when the Holy Spirit helps them to see the connection between their experience of the resurrection, Jesus’ words here and the Scriptures.

“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 2:22)

That is how revelation works. We see it from experience, we hear it from the words of Jesus and we “remember” it from the Scriptures (not necessarily in that order), all through the Holy Spirit.

As a side note, this is why the reading, memorization and meditation on the Bible is so important. We often don’t understand it straight away. But just because we don’t understand it the first time doesn’t mean we should give up. The disciples rarely understood the first time they heard or were taught something and they went on to be great church leaders. It may be years later that we experience something and the Holy Spirit brings back to our mind the Scriptures and we suddenly understand it, we “get it”.

Of course, we won’t be able to “get it” at all if we didn’t read and digest it in the first place.

What is the deeper point that Jesus is wanting to make out of the clearing of the temple? Well lets’ listen in on. The conversation that happened as a result of Jesus clearing the temple:

“So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 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 2:18-22)

Signs were obviously important to the religious leaders. Anyone could get up and pretend they were from God and quote a few of the prophets, but how could they tell if they were really sent from God or not? Their answer was: Supernatural signs.

You could argue that the Jewish faith was based on such signs. We have looked in some of the signs from God that formed the foundation of their understanding of God in Chapter 20. Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses and the people of Israel, Hezekiah and Esther all experiences supernatural signs from heaven that were designed to help them to trust in God in a whole new way. There are many many more such signs that point the way to God in the Old Testament. In fact, up till 400 years before the appearance of Jesus, you could argue that there had been signs in every generation and pretty powerful ones at that.

Maybe that was the problem for these Jewish leaders. It had been so long since the last sign. Then they had to deal with crowds going to John the Baptist, a man of such small self-interest that they couldn’t get him to talk himself and his ministry at all. He insisted that if they wanted to get right with God then they had to repent and line up for baptism behind all the tax collectors, crooked soldiers and prostitutes who got there before them. John the Baptist wasn’t telling people to go to the priests with a sacrifice for the temple. He was telling the priests that they had to come to him.

Now Jesus comes, who seems to have even less respect for them and their temple than John the Baptist. The fact was that Jesus was showing more respect for the temple (His Father’s house) than they were, but they couldn’t see that. They want to be careful about how they respond because the crowds seem to enjoy being round this Jesus more than even they wanted to be around John. Later we discover that most of the people were scared of these religious leaders. Here we find out that the leaders are anxious about what the crowds will do too. That is the way with ungodly leadership, it is built on fear, both ways.

So, the safe way to confront Jesus and not anger the crowds is to demand a sign. If, after 400 years of apparent silence, God has visited His people, then surely He will give this generation a sign as He did to the other generations He spoke to. That seems reasonable.

Jesus doesn’t dispute their logic. In fact He goes along with it. He doesn’t say, as many of us probably would in the circumstances: “You lot are so twisted in your understanding of God and prejudiced in your attitude towards me and John who came before me that no sign I give you is going to open your heart to the truth, so you’re not going to get one!”

Thankfully God is not like us. He is much more gracious and patient and kind than we are. He gives signs all the time, whether we see them or not. John’s gospel tracks many of the signs that Jesus did, in the hope that we would see and believe. But Jesus did many more signs that we no longer know about, because they were not recorded. There were too many of them.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

God doesn’t have a problem with giving us signs.

And so Jesus gives the leaders a sign, in a riddle. I like a riddles. A problem you have to wrestle with that doesn’t make total sense, until it all comes together in your mind and you finally get it. That moment of revelation is worth the effort of the enquiry. Most of the religious leaders didn’t get the riddle, although we are soon going to meet one who certainly wanted to wrestle further with what Jesus is saying. But Jesus wasn’t saying the riddle in this public context mainly for them. He was speaking to another audience and, eventually they got it and became world changers as a result. Revelation is a powerful thing.

So what was the riddle? “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

He is standing in the temple in Jerusalem. He has just driven out all the traders and money changers. The religious leaders assume that Jesus is talking about that temple. Jesus’ riddle sounds like a personal challenge to them first: “If you destroy this temple, then I will raise it up again in three days.”

If they wanted a sign from Jesus, then they were going to have to participate in it in a way that would have been unthinkable to them. There is no way they were going to destroy the temple. As we do when we are cornered, these leaders wanted to keep the spotlight on what Jesus would do: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

But the point has been made. Jesus is going to give them a sign. But it will not begin with Him, it will begin with them. Jesus has just cleaned out their temple, but if they want to see a sign, they are going to have destroy God’s temple first.

Both for these leaders and, more importantly for the disciples of Jesus who are listening, Jesus’s riddle is impossible in two ways. Firstly, there was no way that these religious leaders were going to destroy the temple in Jerusalem (which is what they all think Jesus is referring to, at this point at least). Secondly there was no way, physically, that Jesus could then rebuild it in just three days.

If Jesus could pull this off by persuading the leaders to rip the temple down stone by stone and then by putting it all back together again Himself in three days, then surely that would be two signs to rival anything the Jews had seen before. That would surely prove that the God of Abraham and Moses and Samuel and Elijah and Elisha and Esther and all the other great leaders and prophets of the Old Testament was with this Jesus of Nazareth.

But Jesus did pull this off. And He did it in a way that made it an even greater sign than what these leaders and disciples thought it to be. For those who got it, this became the greatest of all signs. It was so much beyond anything the Jewish people had seen before, that they realised that Jesus was in a totally different league to anyone who God had sent to them before. He was God.

These religious leaders did destroy “this temple”. They did so by stirring up the crowd against Him with false accusations. Faced with an angry mob, the Roman ruler and his cohorts carried out the cruelest form of punishment and death against. In the end, His physical body was taken down from the cross, bruised, battered, beaten, scourged and pierced through. Yes, they were going to destroy “this temple”.

In three days, the temple rose again, more glorious than it had ever been and outshining for all times the greatest temples of earth, even Solomon’s wonder. And when it happened, the disciples got it.

“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 2:22)

They had heard Jesus’ riddle, but didn’t get it then. They had known the scriptures, but didn’t get it then. But then God gives them the greatest of all signs and suddenly their eyes are opened. They get what Jesus was saying. They get what the scriptures were saying and it completely transforms them into world changing leaders. That’s the power of revelation.

What can we get from this? Here’s some thoughts:

1. God gives signs to help us believe. We can pray for them and encourage others to pray for them, particularly unbelievers. The early church did. Listen in on one of their prayer meetings: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30)
2. Some of the signs come in the form of “riddles”, maybe dreams, or prophetic words or scriptures that resonate with us in a deep way. We may think that we know what they mean, but maybe God has hidden the meaning from us for a while, waiting for the right time.
3. The scriptures are full of such signs, and they alone are enough to help us believe. The greatest of these is the death and resurrection of Jesus. As one of this generations’ most well known atheists has said: “If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.”

Jesus did rise from the dead. It did change everything. And it will change everything for you too today if you will choose to believe and receive Jesus as your personal saviour and Lord.

Even if you have already done that, a fresh revelation of the greatest sign of them all may transform your life and ministry to a new level of power and effectiveness.

This is why the Holy Spirit through John gives us these stories at the beginning. It begins with water into wine on the third day. Going beyond creation into a whole new level of recreation as the Creator moves down into our sinful chaotic darkness and begins to speak words of life. It ends with the breakthrough moment for recreation, resurrection life out of every attempt of man to destroy God, on the third day. At the end of water into wine, the disciples are believers, at least to some extent. At the end of the resurrection those same disciples are bold world changers. They have found life in all it’s fulness, recreated, resurrection life and they want the world to have it too.

Posted on: June 3, 2018Peter Todd

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