"Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple , and in three days I will raise it up." ESV.

"Destroy" from "lysate" an imperative.

  1. Here I am not trying to discern the meaning of this word to those who did not understand to which "naos" Jesus was referring. John 2:21.

  2. The words of the false witnesses are not reliable in discerning the content of Jesus' words in Mat 26:61 and Mark 14:58.

  3. What did Jesus mean when He said "Destroy"? Was it:

A] An imperative command - do it. Implying permission to do it.

B] The price of a sign is explained. Here "destroy" is neither a command nor permission but the evil they must do to get the sign they have asked for.

C] Another explanation?

2 Answers 2


Heinrich Meyer asserted that the imperative was intended to be challenging rather than permissive. An example in modern English would be like a person telling another person who was about to hit him, “Go on! Hit me!” The person speaking does not truly want to be hit, but they are challenging the other person. In a way, though, Jesus, who knew their hearts, was threatening them by the imperative. “Kill me! If I am who I say I am, I will rise again, and I will return with vengeance. I will destroy YOUR temple, but this temple will stand forever!”

He wrote,1

Therefore, the sense, divested of this figurative coat, is according to John no other than: “Kill me, and within three days...I will rise again.” The imperative expression of the protasis is not permissive, which weakens the emotion, but challenging, [originating] from the painful, irritable feeling in the hearts-knowledgeable view [looking] upon the opposition, even now beginning to show, [which was] implacable and only satisfied with killing.

Der dieser bildlichen Hülle entkleidete Sinn ist mithin nach Joh. kein anderer als: tödtet mich, und innerhalb dreier Tage...werde ich auferstehen. Der imperative Ausdruck des Vordersatzes ist nicht permissiv, was den Affect schwächt, sondern herausfordernd, aus schmerzlich gereiztem Gefühl im herzenskundigen Hinblicke auf die jetzt schon hervortretende unversöhnliche und erst mit der Tödtung zu befriedigende Opposition.


1 Meyer, p. 144–145


Meyer, Heinrich August Wilhelm. Kritisch exegetischer Kommentar über das Neue Testament, Zweite Abtheilung, Kritisch exegetisches Handbuch über das Evangelium des Johannes. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Göttingen: Vandenboeck and Ruprecht, 1869.


The exchange between Jesus and the "Jews" occurred immediately after He had cleared the temple of traders with the command, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn My Father’s house into a marketplace!" The Jews then asked for a signed of Jesus' authority. He replied with the famous, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.”

I think the easiest way to understand this, recalling that the verb "destroy" is in the imperative mood, is a very precise but veiled prophecy of what would happen. The phrase, "Destroy this temple" could be understood as the (later) command by Jews to kill Jesus, which they did. But the sign that Jesus provides here is the answer - three days later Jesus rose from the dead. Thus, Jesus "quotes" the instruction to kill Jesus.

Thus, the metaphor hinges on the double meaning of the word temple (= nous in Greek) of Jesus body vs the physical temple.

This also underlies the greater suffering inflicted by the false witnesses at Jesus "trial" and the mockers at the crucifixion deliberately twisted these words that missed the imperative mood. (In Matt 26:61, 27:40 the mood is indicative).

  • You could expound the answer by commenting on the dual meaning of λύω (destroy or loose cf. Matthew 18:18). So not only is there a reference to the Resurrection, but His body as the Temple's permanent replacement and the present day location for worship (cf. Matthew 18:19-20 and John 4:23) May 19, 2020 at 19:15
  • That is true but theologically very deep and would take us too far.
    – Dottard
    May 20, 2020 at 6:48

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