Although God is everywhere present, his presence was felt to be specially present in the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant was contained in the Holy of Holies, into which only the High Priest could enter. An example of this presence of God is described by the Prophet Isaiah.
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” (Is 6:1-4)
So, as we have seen, the Temple was the presence of God on earth. There was no holier place than this for the Jewish people. This sense of God’s presence is seen in the description of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple,
“Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. (I Kings 8:6)
“And the Lord said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built and put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. (I Kings 9:3)
But as crucial as the Temple was even in the Old Testament promised in the future, the glory of God would fill all creation, and that God would be present in His people as He was in the Holy of Holies. It was said that sacrifice would cease. Therefore, Jesus Christ’s attitude towards the Temple is a key to the understanding of how Jesus understood Himself and His mission.
For example, Jesus at one time claims to be greater than the Temple.
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law how on the sabbath the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (Mt 12:1-6)
Or we think of Christ’s cleansing of the Temple. For example,
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.” 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?” (Jn 2:13-21)
Here Christ asserts His authority over the Temple In this section Christ identifies His body with the Temple.
Sometimes critics of Christianity say that Jesus Christ never claimed to be God. And nit is true Jesus did not do this often. But there is a reason for this. If Jesus had gone around claiming to be God people would have mocked him and said he is crazy, or they would have killed him much earlier than they did. However, he did make these claims to be God in subtle ways. So, what Jesus said about the Temple is one way of making these claims to be divine. For Christ to say that he is greater that the table or that he had the authority to cleanse the Temple is one of Christ’s away to say he is God.