In the cleansing of the Temple episode, the prophecy of Isaiah’s universalist promise is combined with the prophecy from Jeremiah: “You have made my house into a den of robbers” (Jer 7, 11). We should understand that Jeremiah is an impassioned advocate of the unity of worship and life in the context of Divine Justice. He fights against a politicization of the Temple of Jerusalem as something guaranteed, for the sake of maintaining the cult. But God does not protect a Temple that has been turned into a “den of robbers.”
In the combination of worship and trade, which Jesus denounces, he evidently sees the situation of Jeremiah’s time repeating itself. In this sense, Jesus’ words and actions constitute a warning that could be understood, together with his reference to the destruction of this Temple, as an echo of Jeremiah. But neither Jeremiah nor Jesus is responsible for the destruction of the Temple; rather both, through their passion, indicate who and what it is that truly destroys the Temple. That is, those who turn it into a “den of robber” who abandon the Temple to destruction.
A clearer understanding of the cleansing of the Temple emerges in a saying of Jesus that only John quotes in this context (but Matthew and Mark attribute, in somewhat distorted form, to the false witnesses at Jesus’ trial): “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2, 19). This was how Jesus responded to the Jewish official’s demand for a sign to demonstrate his authority for acting is such a manner. His “sign” is the Cross and Resurrection. The Cross and Resurrection give him authority as the one who ushers in true worship. Jesus justifies himself through his passion – the sign of Jonah that he gives to Israel and to the world.
Yet this saying has an even deeper significance. As John rightly says, the disciples understood it in its full depth only after the Resurrection. The rejection and crucifixion of Jesus means at the same time the end of this Temple. The era of the Temple is over. A new worship is being introduced, in a Temple not built by human hands. This Temple is his body, the Risen One, who gathers the people and unites them in the sacrament of his body and blood. That is, in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup of wine in memory of Jesus. Here Jesus himself is the New Temple of humanity. The crucifixion of Jesus ia at the same time the destruction of the old Temple. with Jesus’ Resurrection, a new way of worshiping God begins, no longer on this or that mountain, but “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4, 21-23).