Jesus Method of Teaching: Between Symbolism and Literality

Symbolism in the Book of John

Symbol to the Word is like the Spirit to the Flesh, both Word and Flesh could be used either as a guide or as a trap.

[Nonverbal Reasoning – Type 1]

John 2

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things away; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. 17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of your house has consumed me.

The Passover is a traditional festival where the nation of Israel celebrates their freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. The first sentence “The Passover of the Jews was at hand” could either mean the traditional Mosaic Passover or could mean that Jesus was with them, thus their salvation was at hand.  He wanted to demonstrate here that the Israelites are still slaves even after Moses took them out of Egypt.  Jesus came to offer the Jews an opportunity for salvation. One of the signs of their slavery was their deep attachment to financial gain.

Moreover, the fact that Jesus talked to those who sold pigeons, in particular, is highly symbolic. Pigeons like all birds symbolise freedom. Cages, on the other hand, symbolise slavery and tradition. Pigeons’ traders could be a symbol for the Pharisees who kept the nation from recognising their saviour.

18Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign show you unto us, seeing that you do these things? 19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.

Jesus used a metaphor to tell the religious leaders that the sign dwells in his ability to give life and sustain it. Of course, Jesus knew the Pharisees would only be able to judge what he said literally otherwise, they would have accused him of blasphemy. But he presented this metaphor not as a satisfactory answer to the Pharisees but so that some witnesses may believe after the resurrection: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.]

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