Reinterpreting “if You Are The Messiah, Tell Us Clearly?!” (jn. 2.18-25 )

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

The authority that Jesus displayed in the prophetic action of cleansing  the temple was once again highlighting the basic question that was implicitly asked – “Who is and who should be in charge of God’s people, Israel?” The gospels answer predictably – Jesus. The text above, vs.23-25, must not be separated from the preceding verses 13-22. Both describe the same thing – Jerusalem during the Passover. We must see vs. 23 continuing what was began in Jerusalem some verses before. In Greek “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people” could and should (because of the over all context) be translated “Jesus on his part did not believe them, because he knew them all”. (Jn.2.24) What comes before and what follows in the Gospel account fits much better, given this slight translation adjustment, especially with the follow up of the vs. 25 (and needed no one to bear witness).

This kind of formula “show/tell us (Jn.2.18 reads “so hoi Iudaioi said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”) will be brought up by Hoi Ioudaioion several occasions and on all occasions the point was that they (Hoi Ioudaioi) were formally in charge of  religious life in ancient Israel under Roman occupation. Jesus’ response could not have been more explicit than in 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The authority of Hoi Ioudaioi could not have been devalued more. This was the case whether or not they understood it as they did (2:20) or as they should have (2:21). Without bothering to explain what he really meant, Jesus denied the authority of hoi Ioudaioi (the Jews) throughout this Gospel, but especially in this passage.

One of the clearest examples of this “show us/I refuse” dynamic is found in Jn. 10:24-27. This could even serve as a primary example of this kind of  polemic. Hoi Ioudaioichallenged Jesus to submit his candidacy for Messiahship to them – the Jerusalemite leaders. Jesus refused, saying that his father and his own deeds are enough to prove his authority, thus rejecting their authority (Hoi Ioudaioi):

Hoi Ioudaioi gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed One, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep (John 10:24-27).

This text is most often read as an instance of Jesus’ general lack of clarity in declaring his Messiahship. However, your current author holds that this is unwarranted. The request of Hoi Ioudaioi should not be read: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed one, tell usplainly,” but “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed One, tell us plainly.” From the standpoint of Hoi Ioudaioi, given their religious authority as the formal representatives of the Judean religion, their authority to validate Jesus’ candidacy for Messiahship was not being honored.

Jesus drew large crowds who followed him. The blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cured, the deaf heard, and the dead came back to life (Mat.11:2-5). Jesus’ identity as Messiah was self-evident, but he had failed to declare himself as such to the Jerusalem authorities. This was the reasoning behind their demand (How long will you keep us in suspense?). He, however, consistently stated that his miracles, and therefore his father’s witness of his Messiahship, were enough to establish him as God’s Messianic Servant (Jn. 10:25-42). Jesus refused to acknowledge the Jerusalem rulers’ authority over him and by extension, over the whole of Israel. Jesus was the one to whom Israel’s Covenantal Lord had entrusted such authority and therefore, submitting himself to the illegitimate/or at least lower level authority of Hoi Ioudaioi was out of the question (Matt.26:63-64).

So what happened? Simply that hoi Iudaioi assumed that they had the right to approve or disapprove Jesus. They were already engaged in the process of judging him. They, at that time as they did more explicitly later, challenged him to prove to them who he was. Jesus refused.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. Ramón Sánchez

    Very interesting turn your interpretación of “us”. I agree totally. The “us” souls be construed as a self reference and not as an expresión of their confusion by Jesus’s Words. In fact, given the Mastery of Jesus in discourse and Public speaking, the Ioudaiou clearly wanted him to defer to them and speak what they wanted to hear so they could act upon his speaking.
    But the time was not ripe then…

  2. Jerry Christensen

    I believe you raise a good point. Jesus did not need validated by anyone, although, he did ask, “Who do men say that I am?”. Still, when Peter answered correctly to “Who do you say that I am?”, Jesus urges the disciples to keep it quiet. Does an oasis need a road sign identifying it as such? (perhaps in today’s world)

    It would be interesting to know if Bar Kochba had been “validated” by “the Jews” as the Moshiach. I also wonder what part of Jesus’ ambiguity is his humility.

    And then there’s Thomas who knocks it out of the park when he proclaims, “My Lord and my G-d” John 20:28. (Peter was probably wishing he’d said that) Even here, there is no record of much of a response from Jesus. I still can’t wrap my arms around what would have allowed a good Jewish boy to say such a thing.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Jerry, read early post on pre-Christian Judaism and duality of God in Jewish thought (about nice Jewish boy).

      About Bar Kochba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_Kokhba_revolt) lived when the Temple was destroyed and the hoi Iudaioi of Gospel of John were no longer there. The early Rabbis of course validated him (Rabbi Akiva for example). But this is not the same thing. Because Rabbis and hoi Iudaioi are not one and the same.