The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to the temple of God, even the Messenger of the covenant.Malachi 3:1
Some think the temple of God is the temple Zerubbabel and Joshua built. Of course, there is a link between this temple in Jerusalem and Jesus. Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest built this temple around 520 B.C. They built this temple after Haggai the prophet told them God wanted the temple rebuilt (Haggai 1:1-8).
Jesus’ familiarity with the temple of God
Jesus taught in this temple daily (Matthew 26:55, John 7:14). Additionally, he went there and “overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Matthew 21:12). Thus, Jesus was a regular in this temple built by Zerubbabel and Joshua.
Nevertheless, one should not accept this connection as exclusive. God speaks about a spiritual temple more significant than a building. If the temple’s interpretation was only literal, it lacks spiritual meaning for its readers today. Consequently, Malachi’s prophecy would be a source of trite knowledge instead of spiritual insight.
To be sure, the “building” verification of Malachi’s prophecy benefits the reader somewhat. Consequently, the reader acknowledges that God’s word manifests in the actual world. However, a person shouldn’t mistake physical verifiability as the purpose of the building in Malachi’s prophecy. When one takes Malachi’s prophecy as spiritual, it references Jesus Christ and the sinlessness and sacrifice of his body.
The symbolism of the temple of God
For instance, although Zerubbabel and Joshua built a physical temple, Jesus states the temple is symbolic. When asked to show a sign of his authority after throwing money changers’ tables over in the temple, Jesus answered “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). Some people who heard Jesus thought he was talking about the temple Zerubbabel and Joshua built. However, Scripture says “the temple he had spoken of was his body” (John 2:21).
Jesus intentionally substitutes the physical building with his physical body. Nonetheless, we should not mistake Jesus’ resurrected body as anything less than spiritual. As Scripture states, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Who made Jesus? It was not Joseph or any human, but God. God’s hands fashioned the eternal temple (church)—Jesus (Luke 1:35). Likewise, the temple Jesus referred to was his physical and eternal body.
Ownership of Jesus
Another reason the temple is spiritual is Jesus does not say that the human-built temple is his. Jesus actually takes ownership of his body as the temple. Could it be, perhaps, that Jesus was upset with the false symbolism in the temple when he overturned the tables? That is to say that Jesus was upset with the representation of God’s temple instead of its actual condition.
For instance, a son who takes over his father’s business would probably be upset if an employee representing his father’s business defames the name of the business. Likewise, Jesus was probably upset that people were defaming his father’s business.
The last reason God’s temple is Jesus is that God does not dwell in physical buildings. David knew this. He said, “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built” (1 KIngs 8:27). David knew that human hands were so defiled and “small” that God would not live in a temple he made.
Since Jesus calls himself the temple, does not directly call the temple Zerubbabel and Joshua built God’s, and God does not live in anything built by humans, the temple Malachi refers to must be Jesus. Jesus is the temple not built by human hands.
God lived in Jesus, was Jesus, is Jesus, and will be Jesus. God built the temple that we could not build—a sinless body. Why did he do this? To save our sins so we could live with him forever. So, when Malachi says “his temple,” he is really saying God’s body.