In Matthew 12:6, Jesus makes an incredible statement. Looking into the eyes of the Pharisees (the Jewish religious establishment of Jesus’ day), Jesus states, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.”
To understand the shock value such a statement must have had, think for a moment about what the temple represented for a Jew in Jesus’ day. The temple was God’s dwelling place. It was where God was. It was “God’s house” on earth. It was where God came down and met with his people. His glory resided there. He spoke to his people there. Atonement for sin was made there. The entire Jewish religious system was centered around and represented by the temple. I don’t think I could overestimate the importance of the temple in Jewish life, Jewish culture, and in the hearts of the Jewish people. Even today, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem (the remains of a wall that surrounded the temple that existed in Jesus’ day, the temple itself having been destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.) is considered a holy site and continues to be greatly revered. And then here comes Jesus and says, “You know, something greater than the temple is here.” Whatever Jesus is talking about, it’s got to be absolutely astounding.
I think Jesus’ point by saying that something greater than the temple was upon them was that the Pharisees had completely missed the point altogether. Here the Pharisees are worrying about fulfilling their religious codes to the letter while extorting widows and defrauding their parents. They keep the temple building immaculate while the poor lie naked and dirty in the streets. They fulfill every external rule they had while breaking the very core of God’s law in their hearts. The reason the temple and the Jewish law existed was to move people toward loving God more and loving other people more. That doesn’t mean the law or the temple wasn’t important. It simply means they were secondary. The very truth upon which God’s law to man was based now stood before the Pharisees’ faces, and they completely missed it.
Jesus is greater than any temple, any priest, any system, or any religious code. He is the reason for which God gives men a temple, or priests, or a religious system or code. Jesus is the sign to which all those things point. That doesn’t mean signs aren’t good or even that they’re unimportant. It simply means that they, in and of themselves, are not the point at all. In fact, their entire purpose is to point people away from themselves to a greater truth: Jesus! And he was standing right in front of them! And they didn’t see him.
It thrills my soul that Jesus is greater than the temple. He’s greater than my Bethlehem Baptist Church membership. He’s greater than any church building. He’s greater than any organizational structure my church or any church has set up. He’s greater than any ministry. He’s greater than any doctrinal statement. He’s greater than the standard of ethics I’ve set for myself. He’s greater than my marriage and food and every other good thing that God designed in this earth. And the reason that he’s greater is because everything else serves but one purpose: to point people to Jesus. For “all things were created through him [Jesus] and for him. And he is before all things…. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:16-18). Everything else is a sign. Jesus is the destination. And I’ve got him. How about you?