39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads
40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
Matthew 27:39-40 (NASB) Download:
“You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself.” The fact that a mere passerby could say such a thing shows how widely the notion had spread that Jesus had said, “I will destroy the temple and build it in three days.” Evidently, if you had asked an average citizen in Jerusalem, “Who is this Jesus?” he might have said, “O, he’s the one who intends to destroy the temple and build it again in three days.” People always seem to be remembered for the outlandish and incredible things they say—especially if politically or religiously radical. And destroying the temple in Jerusalem was about as radical as you could get.
But did Jesus really say he would destroy the temple and build it again in three days? On Thursday night of Holy Week Jesus was arrested about midnight in the garden of Gethsemane and taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, for a preliminary hearing. Mark 14:56-59: For many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'” Yet not even so did their testimony agree.
One time that we know of he had said something like this, but the people had gotten the meaning (and the wording) all wrong. According to John 2, Jesus entered the temple, found it full of commerce, made a whip, and drove out the money changers. The Jews then said to him, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” 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 spoke of the temple of his body.
The reason Jesus said this was because the Jews demanded a sign to prove his right to take such authority in the temple when he drove out the money changers. “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” And Jesus’ answer is: “When you destroy this temple, I will build it again in three days.” There is no escape: Jesus foresaw and predicted not only his death (which an ordinary person could do), but also his resurrection (which no ordinary person could do).
There are lessons here for us: 1) One is a warning against misusing a saying from Scripture as a threat against God. Have you ever taken a verse and waved it in God’s face and said: “O.K. , if this is true, why don’t you come down here and get me out of this mess?” That kind of attitude puts us right in company with the passersby. And probably, we have misunderstood the verse like they misunderstood Jesus’ saying.
2) One other lesson is the lesson of patience and of accepting injustice against ourselves. Jesus was misunderstood as much as we will ever be. He was treated unjustly as much as we will ever be. His own wonderful words of love were turned into blasphemous mockery, just like many of your good intentions are twisted against you. And what did he do? He absorbed it. He had an astonishing capacity of receiving blows and not returning them. And so Peter says he left us an example to follow—but more. In dying for our sins, he also purchased for us the power to follow his example.
Let’s be like Jesus, not like the passerby.