As we continue to look at ideas in the Scriptures that we may easily miss, we pull one out today that goes in the opposite direction. That is, we look back on the time of Israel from the time of Jesus and discover something interesting.
The priests were responsible for a lot of things in Israel. It was they who guarded Israel's covenant faithfulness, mediated between the people and God, and kept the oil burning in the Temple. It was they who made atonement for Israel's sins and cleansing for her uncleanness. It was they who performed, or at least oversaw, all of the holy things that went on in the Temple.
But they did not build the Temple.
God gave the plans for the Temple to Moses, then instructed him as to which of the Israelites He had gifted to do all the work of actually building the thing. They were not priests. They weren't even Levites. The man God chose to build the Temple was from another tribe altogether. And yet, we see also that the priests were responsible for a little handymanning of their own.
Take a look at Leviticus 14. If there is mildew or some other uncleanness in a house, it is the priest's responsibility to organize the tearing down and rebuilding of the house, stone by stone. The priest determines which stones must be removed and replaced, how they are to be patched together within, and when the work of rebuilding in cleanliness is complete. It is the priest who puts the final plaster on the cleansed house.
The actual language that's used in this passage is "stone upon stone upon stone."
Fast forward to the time of Jesus, and the Son of God makes some bold claims about what He is going to do to the Temple. He says that not one stone will be left on top of another, but that He will rebuild it in three days. Hearing this, the faithful Jews would have had a couple of immediate reactions.
First, they would have understood that this might be an indictment against the uncleanness of the Temple. Because we see in the Scriptures the unclean house as "stone by stone," just the way that Jesus talks about the Temple by its stones.
Second, they would have understood, then, in connection that Jesus was calling Himself a priest. It was the priest's job, stone by stone, to un-build the unclean structure and then to rebuild it. Jesus declaring that not a single stone will be left on top of another in the unclean Temple is also a declaration of His own priesthood. He is, in other words, qualified and anointed to be the one to undertake this work.
That's pretty neat.
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