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Jesus: Temple and Kingdom Builder

by John Bergsma March 20, 2019 0 Comments



When we look through the Sermon on the Mount, we’re going to find both kingdom and temple themes running throughout the sermon; both kingdom and temple themes. They go together, just as royal priesthood goes together. Jesus is building a kingdom, a kingdom which is simultaneously the temple. He’s building a sacral kingdom. And this is in fulfillment of Jewish expectation. In what we call “second temple of Jewish literature”, that is the Jewish religious writings from after the exile, after they came back from Babylon, which would include the time of our lord. We call that the “second temple period”, where they rebuilt the temple. The first temple period was before the Babylonians destroyed the temple, the second temple is from about 500-70 A.D., when it was destroyed by the Romans, that’s the second temple period.

The Jewish writings from this period give evidence of an expectation that when the Messiah came, the sanctity of the temple would expand from the temple precincts and fill all of Jerusalem, and some expectations even larger, that the sanctity of the temple would encompass the whole nation. In some of the Jewish writings we have an idea of (kind of) the entire people and land of Israel becoming (as it were) one great temple-state, where kingdom and temple would be coterminous, where kingdom and temple would be the same. In our lord’s teachings we see a kind of fulfillment of that expectation. The kingdom that he is bringing is simultaneously a temple. His kingdom is ultimately the Church, which is both temple and kingdom.

Let’s look at some of these themes. Let’s look at the kingdom themes first. We’re going to look very carefully at the beatitudes in a few moments. I’m going to look at them just superficially here. There are eight main beatitudes starting with Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, we go down to the 8th beatitude, which is in verse 10, verse 11 being a (kind of) epilogue, and verse 10 says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” These are the only two beatitudes that promise the same reward: the first one and the eighth one. The first and last beatitudes promise the kingdom of heaven. In literature, we call that kind of pattern an inclusio, that’s where you begin and you end on the same topic. It’s a way of making your literary composition elegant. It’s also a way of assisting in memory. If you begin and you end at the same point and you make a full circle, it gives a sense of completeness to what you’re doing. But, when we find that the first and the last promise of the kingdom of heaven, what that helps us to do is identify, “what’s the central point, here?” Out of these different rewards that are promised, what is central? What’s the (kind of) focus? That focus is the kingdom. The other rewards that are promised in response to the other virtues listed in the beatitudes are aspects of the kingdom. So the beatitudes are kingdom blessings. So we begin the sermon with these kingdom blessings, the beatitudes, the quality of kingdom citizens. Moving forward in the Sermon on the Mount, when we get to the middle of the Sermon of the Mount, Matthew chapter 6, we have the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:9, "Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come…” The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for the coming of the kingdom, it is a kingdom prayer. So we have this kingdom theme in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.

And when we go to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the end of Matthew 7, we have this famous parable (I’m reading from Matthew 7:24), “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock…” I don’t know…have you ever sung this in Sunday school when you were a kid: “The wise man built his house upon the rock, the wise man built his house… and the rains came down and the floods came up…” Anyone else besides me do this? A couple, two or three people know what I’m talking about. You do all this stuff, you have the hand motions, “floods came up and the rain came down…” We didn’t really know what was going on behind this or what Jesus was talking about or that this was part of the Sermon on the Mount. There’s a lot more going on besides “the floods came up and the rains came down”. Who is the quintessential wise man in the Bible who built a great house upon the rock? Solomon. This was the house he built, the house of God. It was the largest (literally) the largest building in Israel. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world, especially the rebuilt temple that Herod built, it was mammoth, there wasn’t anything like it anywhere in the ancient world, not even in Rome was there an architectural marvel to rival the Jerusalem temple, and I’m in earnest when I say that.

Solomon built the great temple, he built it out of rock. There’s a Muslim shrine there, today, do you know what it’s called? Dome of the Rock. There is a big outcropping of bedrock on (technically it’s called) Mt. Moriah, which is where the temple is built. Incidentally it’s the same place where Abraham offered Isaac, so there’s a very strong connection between Genesis 22 and the temple, the sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of the temple, but we can’t go into that right now. Anyway, the outcropping that they built the temple upon was called the Eben Shetiya.Eben means stone and shetiya means foundation. It was a stone of foundation. In the Jewish worldview, it was a huge rock that closed up the gates of Hell. There was a shaft to Hell under there, on top of that was this big rock, and then on top of the rock was built the temple. That’s how they viewed the cosmos. That was their worldview. But Solomon built the great house of God on this great rock, this stone of foundation.

So if we were Jews hearing Jesus say this, and he says, “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;” what Jesus is saying is, “If you hear my words and do them” (and father talked to us about having a listening heart and actually listening, our lord is emphasizing that same thing), “hear these words and does them”, the listener is the one who actually puts things into practice (he will be like the wise man), Jesus is saying, “You’re going to be like Solomon.” If you hear my words and do them you will be like Solomon. And in the Jewish worldview, Solomon was the image of the Messiah, the greatest of the kings, the man infused with divine wisdom. And you’re saying, if I hear your words, I’m going to be like him? This is a huge claim. Other rabbis did not make this claim. Other rabbis went around talking, they did not say “if you hear my words, you’re going to be like Solomon of old.” If that’s the case, that listening to Jesus can make us as wise as Solomon, Jesus has to be greater than Solomon. There’s really no one greater than Solomon but God himself.

So implicit in here is a claim of our Lord’s divinity. He is making tremendous claims – it was the Lord who granted Solomon his wisdom in the first place. Solomon prayed and it was granted to him. And our Lord is implying now that if you listen to his words, the words of Jesus, Jesus himself will grant you the wisdom that indeed he granted to Solomon of old, because he was the second person of the Trinity, and he was involved in that original granting of his spirit to Solomon at that time. So, that is a royal promise. Solomon was the great king, Solomon was a temple-builder, he was the embodiment of the kingdom. So it’s a royal promise, it’s a kingdom promise to be like this great king of old. So at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we have these beatitudes, these qualities of kingdom citizens. In the middle we have a kingdom prayer. At the end we have a royal kingdom promise, “you’re going to be like Solomon”. Those are just some of the kingdom themes that run throughout.

John Bergsma
John Bergsma


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