Questions From Readers
● John 2:19 (NW) states: “In answer Jesus said to them: ‘Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” Does this indicate that Jesus had power to raise himself from the dead, as trinitarians argue, and proving, as they say, that Jesus and God are the same person?—M. S., Oregon.
We must harmonize Jesus’ words with many other scriptures, which clearly show that God and Christ are separate persons and not equal and not tied together, along with the holy spirit, to form one god. Numerous texts show that Jesus did not raise himself from the dead, but that he was resurrected by Jehovah God his Father. (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:15; Eph. 1:20) So how may we logically view John 2:19?
The context must be examined. Joh 2 Verses 13 to 18 show that Jesus had cleansed the literal temple at Jerusalem, routing from it those who were making it a place of merchandise, and as a result had been confronted with this question from the Jews: “What sign have you to show us, since you are doing these things?” Then in the 19th Joh 2 verse 19 Jesus told them the sign, which is the basis of our question. Joh 2 Verses 20-22 continue: “Therefore the Jews said: ‘This temple was built in forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was talking about the temple of his body. When, though, he was raised up from the dead, his disciples called to mind that he used to say this.”—NW.
This setting shows that Jesus was not talking about his physical body, but “he was talking about the temple of his body”. The temple in Jerusalem that Jesus cleansed represented not Jesus alone but also the body-members over which he is head. Just as the literal temple was not made up of one stone but many, so “the temple of his body” consists of many living stones, with Jesus as the foundation cornerstone: “You yourselves also as living stones are being built up a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:4-7, NW) After the Jewish religionists rejected Christ the living stone and broke him down by death on the torture stake, on the third day thereafter Jehovah God raised him up to become the chief cornerstone of the temple of living stones then under preparation. He immediately appeared to his disciples and lifted them up out of their despondency, built them up spiritually so that they could “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. That this building of “the temple of his body” started then and continued through the years that followed is shown by Peter’s use of the present tense when years afterward he said Christ’s followers “are being built up a spiritual house”.
Now with this broadened view of matters we must return to the consideration of Jesus’ words, “In three days I will raise it up.” We have seen how he did start giving attention to the building up of the temple of living stones after his resurrection on the third day of his death. Yet it might be argued with some force that since Jesus was to be the chief cornerstone and he was the firstfruits of the resurrection, the first one to be built up for use in the construction of the spiritual house or temple, we cannot eliminate him entirely from this building work and apply the expressions concerning it to his followers only. Yet we cannot say that Jesus raised himself, for he was dead, and the trinity doctrine, being proved false by so many scriptures, cannot be appealed to as a basis for saying he was dead only as Christ but alive as God, and hence could, as God, raise himself, as Christ. Moreover, as we have previously noted, Joh 2 verse 22 specifically states that “he was raised up from the dead”, not that he raised himself. Is there any way, then, that we could understand and harmonize in a reasonable way Jesus’ statement that “in three days I will raise it up”, having it embrace his own resurrection as chief cornerstone as well as the building up of his followers as living stones?
There does seem to be such a reasonable explanation. When Jesus said, “Break down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he was speaking in a predictive sense; not that he would raise himself up, but that he predicted that three days after he was broken in death by his enemies the temple of God would begin to be raised up, beginning with him as the head member of it. We have examples of this predictive use of a term elsewhere in the Bible, where an individual says he will do a thing, but he actually does not do it at all. It comes about only as a result of his action.
For instance, at Isaiah 6:9, 10, where Jehovah appears to Isaiah and says, “Go, and tell this people.” And then what does he say? He says: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” Now, God did not mean for Isaiah to actually go and fatten their hearts and stop up their ears and close their eyes to forestall any repentance; but he was predicting that that would be the effect of the message that Isaiah had been commanded to go tell the people, that the people themselves would show closed eyes and unhearing ears and fatty hearts, that they would not repent and turn to Jehovah for healing spiritually.
A similar usage is found at Ezekiel 43:3, where Ezekiel sees the vision of Jehovah coming to the temple, and says it was “according to the vision that I saw when I came to destroy the city”. But Ezekiel did not come to destroy Jerusalem; he came only to predict the destruction of the city by the Babylonians. Yet he spoke of himself as doing it, you see. So in the same predictive sense Jesus could speak as though he was going to raise himself, yet actually he would be resurrected by Jehovah God.
Then we also have that controversial text where it says Jehovah hardened the heart of Pharaoh. He said: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you.” (Ex. 7:3, 4) Now, Jehovah did not harden the heart of Pharaoh, but he was predicting that Pharaoh’s heart would be hardened as a result of the message sent to him by Moses and Aaron, and that the repeated extension of God’s mercy to him would not soften him but would cause his heart to harden even more. It is not unusual for wicked men to interpret Jehovah’s long-suffering as a sign of weakness and thus become more set in their evil ways, thinking the time of reckoning will never come. This is shown by Ecclesiastes 8:11: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
There are a number of other Scriptural examples where one person is spoken of as doing a thing, not because he actually does it, but because he predicts it or it results from some action of his. So it is at John 2:19. Jesus’ words, “In three days I will raise it up,” were merely predicting that the temple would be raised up on the third day after his death on the torture stake, and Jehovah God was the one who raised up the temple by first raising up the head member of it, the Lord Jesus Christ, and from then on, from that third day on, God used him to raise up all the other members of the temple class. (Zech. 6:12) So through the Roman military the Jews broke down the chief and initial member of God’s spiritual temple, but on the third day Jehovah raised him as a spirit creature and chief cornerstone of the spiritual temple.
Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.—1 Pet. 3:15, NW.