In exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel is given a vision of hope. In an earlier vision, he had witnessed God’s presence departing the temple in Jerusalem (10:18). In Chapters 40–48, Ezekiel describes a new temple, built in a new city. The city is named “The Lord is there” (48:35). In today’s passage, Ezekiel witnesses a life-giving river flowing out of the threshold of the temple toward the arid east. As the river flows, it brings life — freshening the salt waters of the Dead Sea, and causing living creatures to multiply and thrive. Fruit trees blossom and bear fruit; their leaves will be used for medicine. Ezekiel’s vision shows the new Israel as a source of life for others. Ezekiel’s prophecies, like the river he witnessed, brought life to a people still in exile.
Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians picks up a familiar image and transforms it. Familiar with the temples and public buildings of the city, Paul explains to the Corinthian believers that they too are edifices, built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. They are temples because the spirit of God dwells within them. The former pagan Corinthians would undoubtedly think of the myriad temples found in their cities, while the Jewish believers would have in mind the temple in Jerusalem. Paul often used common metaphors (feeding babies, 1 Corinthians 3:2; athletic races and boxing, 1 Corinthians 9:26) to explain faith in Christ.
Unlike the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), John places the incident in the temple at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus had just demonstrated his first sign—the changing of water into wine at Cana. He now travels to Jerusalem for the Passover. In John, seven signs demonstrate to believers who Jesus is. In today’s reading, the Jewish leaders ask him what sign he can show for his actions. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Christian believers would recognize in this statement Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but the Jewish leaders understood the statement literally and heard this as a threat against the temple.