Connections 03.04.2018: Déjà Vu Faith

John 2:13-25

Sometimes when I experience déjà vu, it seems like it’s happened before.

But seriously, folks: I’ve had many occurrences of déjà vu, which is the sensation of remembering being in a place or situation that you’ve never been in before. So you might walk into a restaurant in a city you’ve not previously visited and feel like you’ve seen it before. Or you might be having a conversation with someone and feel like you’ve had that exact conversation before, right down to hand gestures and voice inflections.

It’s an odd feeling.

Nobody’s sure what causes déjà vu. There are various psychological and physiological theories. I have a personal fondness for the possibility that we’ve already had the experience in a parallel universe. But that’s probably not right.

In the Fourth Gospel’s narrative, Jesus cleansed the temple at the beginning of his ministry. When challenged on his authority to do such things, he replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Taking him literally, his challengers questioned how he could reconstruct in three days what it had taken forty-six years (and counting) to build.

Then the writer of the Fourth Gospel tells us, “But he was speaking of the temple of his body” (v. 21). Then he jumps way ahead in the story and says, “After 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” (v. 22).

It wasn’t really déjà vu. When Jesus was raised from the dead, the words he had spoken all those years ago helped them understand what had happened. And his resurrection helped them understand what he had said all those years ago.

Things from the past helped them understand the present. Things in the present helped them understand the past. And all those things taken together gave them hope for the future.

The disciples experienced what they experienced, heard what they heard, saw what they saw, and remembered what they remembered because they were with Jesus. As we follow Jesus, our experiences will continually come together to help us grow in faith and live faithfully. Things that happen will remind of what we’ve learned before, and that will help us understand and deal with what is happening now. What is happening now will help us better understand what we’ve experienced before.

To experience déjà vu is to sense that we’ve been there before.

To experience déjà vu faith is to realize that somehow, by God’s grace, it all fits together.


1. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place Jesus’ cleansing of the temple during the last week of Jesus’ life. Why might John have placed it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry?
2. What prompted Jesus to drive out the money changers and merchants?
3. Why did Jesus use metaphorical language to refer to his resurrection? Why didn’t he plainly state what he meant?
4. Why would Jesus not “entrust himself to” those who believed him because of the signs he performed?
5. Jesus “knew what was in everyone” (v. 25b). What does Jesus know is in you?

Reference Shelf

The Temple Cleansing, 2:13-25

Many persons with mindsets focused on chronology become sidetracked with comparisons here between John and the Synoptics and argue either for the priority of the Synoptics or of John, minimizing the theological concerns of both (cf. Brown 1966, 117-19). The alternative is to argue for two cleansings of the Temple, but such an approach is a construct of the interpreter, and no Gospel has two such cleansings. The problem is a presupposition that insists on turning the Gospels into pedantic prose/chronological reports and fails to allow a great literary figure like the Johannine evangelist to write the way he wishes. Instead, this story seems to serve the evangelist in a way similar to the literary or dramatic vehicle called in medius res (“in the thing’s middle”) where decisive moments are transported to the beginning of a story to involve readers immediately in the trauma of the story (see Borchert, John). Such does not minimize history and chronology but allows both to serve the purpose of theology and witness.

2:13-17. Jesus’ confrontation in the Temple. The story opens with the strategic notation that it was PASSOVER time (see Borchert, John) and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (always “up” in the minds of the Jews). The time was the significant celebration of God’s deliverance or salvation. Rather than being focused on God and worship, however, the Temple here is pictured as a combination of a noisy bank or exchange (“tables,” the Greek term for banking) and a farmer’s market. This misuse of God’s house irritated Jesus, and he reacted with zeal by forcefully stopping all business transactions (not a “namby-pamby” Jesus).

2:18-22. The meaning of the act. The attack on the Temple business brought a demand from the Jews for an explanation or sign (a Johannine theme). Jesus’ response was a three-day prediction concerning his death and resurrection. The Jewish reaction of forty-six years in building the Temple is significant because this story would then be dated at ca. 27 C.E., since the Temple rebuilding began ca. 20-19 B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant 15.11.1).

The entire conversation is important because it is packaged in a play on words for Temple. In vv. 14 and 15 iepov means the “Temple complex” with its courts, whereas vaos (vv. 19, 20, 21) means “sanctuary” and is here used not of a building but of Jesus’ body. This text also supplies an important post-resurrection perspective for this Gospel (v. 22), a fact that should be remembered by all readers of John (see Borchert 1988, 502-503).

2:23-25. The nature of believing. The evangelist adds a crucial postscript to this Temple confrontation by referring again to Passover and by reminding readers that Jesus does not accept everyone’s believing because he knows human nature. The distinction about true and authentic believing is not a linguistic nicety of Greek, as some have suggested, but a matter of commitment to Jesus (cf. Carson 1981, 249-50n.37).

This postscript or summary statement is, like the entire Gospel, written from a holistic or post-resurrection view of the work of Jesus. The responses to him are reckoned from such a perspective. Thus, when one encounters the plural word signs (v. 23; cf. 3:2) before the second sign at 4:54 and when one meets a variety of believing responses so early in the Gospel, one should be alerted to the necessity of reading this Gospel from a holistic or post-resurrection point of view.

Gerald L. Borchert, “John,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995).

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


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