New Temple

Jesus’ visitation of the Temple in Jerusalem in John 2 marks a significant transition in the life of Israel. As with his miracle at Cana, during which Jesus changed the water “…for the Jewish rites of purification” (v.6) into the wine of the New Covenant, Jesus continues fulfilling Jewish rites and institutions and doing away with the Old Covenant order.

Raymond Brown describes this transition well in The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentray: “In the outer court of the Temple Jesus finds a virtual market where visitors could purchase the animals necessary for sacrifice and change their money for Tyrian half-shekels (coins religiously not objectionable). In attacking this commerce, Jesus is doing more than purging an abuse; the animals are the coins were necessary for Temple worship. In this cleansing Jesus is attacking the Temple itself. He has replaced Jewish purifications at Cana; now he shows that the very center of Jewish worship loses its meaning in his presence. The glorious presence of God, once confined to the Temple, has now become flesh in Jesus.” (p. 30)

The Lord has surely come to his temple. “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? … he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to Yahweh. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Yahweh as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Mal. 3:2-4)

Jesus judges the Jerusalem temple and sets himself up as the true Temple. John emphasizes that his historic body is the Temple that, though destroyed, will rise “in three days.” (Jn. 2:19) Paul draws this out in 1 Corinthians 13 to tell us that, with Christ as our head, the ecclesial body, the Church, is “God’s temple” in which he dwells. “The glorious presence of God”, as Brown says, formerly housed in the Temple, incarnated in Jesus, is now with us. 

Baptism and Union with Christ

In Pauline thought, baptism is closely linked with union with Christ. We are baptized into union with the Lord. We are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection (Rom. 6.3; Col. 2.12). As we are baptized into union with Christ, we are adopted as “sons of God through faith,” and we become “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according the the promise.” (Gal. 3.26-29)

In fact, the way Paul speaks of baptism does not leave much room for suggesting that baptism is a “mere symbol” of union with Christ; rather, baptism actually effects that which it symbolizes. In Paul, the sign and the thing signified are not to be pulled apart. So, how do we make sense of this? How does baptism bring us into union with the risen Christ?

Paul’s answer is that baptism into Christ is baptism into the whole Christ, both head and body, what St. Augustine called the Totus Christus. Baptism is the doorway into the Church, the body of Christ:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12.12-13)

To be in the Church, the body of Christ, is to be in Christ. Thus baptism into the Church is baptism into union with Christ.

Children, Fathers, Young Men

Behind this triple division of the church [children, fathers, and young men in 1 Jn. 2] is the Old Testament sequence of offices – priest, king, and prophet. Priests are servants, who are given clear and detailed instructions for everything. They are “children,” following rules and serving. Since the church is a priesthood, John can call all his readers “children.” Kings have grown in maturity, and are called to make their own judgments about things as well as engage in battle. John’s “young men” are kings. Prophets are sages, wise men who have their senses trained to discern good and evil. They speak with authority because of that experience, and because of the Spirit in them, and so they are “fathers” to the kings and direct the priests. Every church needs each of these.

(Peter J. Leithart, The Epistles of John Through New Eyes: From Behind the Veil, pp. 77-78.)