So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said. Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
Previously the Lord had responded to the desecration of the temple, having arrived for Passover (Chapter 2:13-17).
And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" (verse 16).
The people, or at least the disciples, responded to the Lord's actions, by remembering the words of the prophet:
For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. (Psalm 69:9).
However, it was their unbelief that the Lord was working against.
The passage before us concerns the hatred of God for wickedness and the purpose of the temple which neither Pharisees of Disciples recognised.
So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?"
The Jews, which were mostly like the religious leaders, demand a sign, indicating their unbelief. However, it was an impertinent and dangerous question because Jesus had:
Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up"
This did not answer the question the religious leaders had posed, but presented a whole new problem for them.
In effect, Jesus instead of answering their basic question - by what authority did he carry out the lawful act of removing unlawful activities from the temple, His own house, he replies in a way that someone who was divine, that is God, could.
The response points directly at his divinity. In a round about way he is saying, I have the right to a temple that is honest and rid of wickedness, this is because I am God and the temple is mine!
He thus makes himself equal to God:
Also said that God was his Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:18)
Furthermore, he was about his Fathers business:
And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? (Luke 2:49)
This needed to be carried out urgently, while he was present (the light), soon he was to be taken away (and darkness would descend):
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)
It could mean:
1. Supposing I destroy.
2. I will destroy.
3. When I destroy, in a prophetic sense.
The phrase does not mean that Christ demanded to be destroyed as some have made it. The sentence has its plain meaning "do this and this will happen". The temple he refers to is himself - he was the temple of the living God, being God himself. We know this because John interprets this for us.
Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (verse 21 & 22)
Furthermore, the Lord was indicating that worship at a physical place would cease: worship in Jerusalem specifically would cease, and there would no longer be three pilgrimages each year by every man, to fulfill requirements of worship. This was too much at this stage for the disciples to take in, but Jesus takes it up later and John records it as a conversation between Jesus and a non-Jew, a Samaritan (John 4).
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. "You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. "God is Spirit (John 4:21-24)
Hence, the temple was to be destroyed.
And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things [the temple]? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down." (NJKV Matt 24:2)
The tabernacle (tent) or temple (stone building that replaced the tabernacle by King Solomon) had the following purposes:
1. It pointed towards Christ and was a model (and shadow) of heaven.
2. It allowed God to dwell among his people, Israel - visible by day by a cloud and night as a pillar of fire - with His glory filling the temple. This contrasts with the fact that Jesus came and dwelt amongst His own, but had no where to sleep:
And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Matthew 8:20.
3. It was the place God came to meet man. Man had to and always will need to meet God on His ground, that the mediator (Aaron before Christ, and Christ since) has prepared.
4. The tabernacle joins together:
a. All Israel (they encamped around the tabernacle, with the Levites (priests) being the "mortar" that held it together, living in and around the entire tabernacle amongst the other tribes.
b. Believers are joined with Christ, having been baptized into one body which has Christ as its head:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free (NKJV 1 Corinthians 12:13).
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. (NJKV Ephesians 1:22,23).
5. The tabernacle, the imperfect way of salvation has:
a. Been made perfect through Christ, the perfect sacrifice.
b. Christ having died once and sat down for ever, having completed the work, unlike Aaron who had to enter the Holies every year, allowed the doing away with the furniture of sacrifice, as no further sacrifice will ever take place (See Hebrew 9 & 10).
Christ indicates here, in the Gospel of John, that the dwelling place of God - ie Christ - was to be killed.
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. John 1:11
However, Israel will put away Christ until they call upon his name - this is still to happen. The Gentiles on the other hand took up the offer of having a temple, which they could commune with God - their own bodies, in which the Holy Spirit indwells, if repentant and having faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed Israel will not see the Messiah until they say "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord"
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. 39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:37-39).
The destruction of the temple at Jerusalem would usher in the Church age - the mystery of the Old Testament, but here first being to be revealed to the disciples.
Jesus answered . in three days I will raise it up.
The explanation is given by John in verse 21, where Jesus meant that he would die and rise again in 3 days. This implies the temple was his body, which is carried forward to when Paul explains that all believers are call the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). This is not too hard to understand or reason, since a temple is merely a dwelling place and the Holy Spirit indwells all believers. By this reason we know whether a person is really a believer or not.
Note carefully the tense of this sentence - it is "I will". Men put Christ on the cross - he gave up his life and he raised it up again.
Ryle puts this rather well, paraphrasing what Jesus was intending in these word, so I will quote him:
"You ask for a sign, and I will give you one. I will rise again from the dead the third day after my crucifixion. If I do not rise from the dead, you need not believe that I am Messiah. But if I do so rise, you will be without excuse if you do not believe on me [! my emphasis]"
Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
This was a sneer in astonishment and total unbelief; incredulity - an adult answering like a snickering school boy who distains another's correct answer. As if; You! You will do it! This taunting continues right to his death:
39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 "He saved others; Himself He cannot save.[If] He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will [on] believe Him. 43 "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" 44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.. (Matthew 27:29-32)
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
They had come a long way, although this is actually forgotten in the heat of the moment of the actual crucifixion of Our Lord, yet at this stage they understand. Note the word "Scripture" here - there was nothing new in what the Lord was to do - it was all explained in the Scripture and hence the testimony of Scripture is embodied in the resurrection of Christ.
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.
24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men,
25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.
There are clearly two beliefs: and intellectual belief which is from the mind, that leads to death and then there is a saving belief which is from the heart.
God knows the inside of our hearts and can discern the two beliefs. The lesson is, what is our heart attitude towards God? (1 Kings 8:39).
Christ needed no further information to discern the real character of man. Christ, recorded by John, prompted by the Holy Spirit pronounces judgment on all men: "He knew what was in man". This is a most damming judgement and the sole reason for the need for his death and resurrection.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
10 I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17: 9 & 10).
18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land;
20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20)
 Psalm 45:7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
 Exodus from Egypt 1446 BC (May have disputed these dates; I am no scholar on these, but the dates are indicative of the time the events took place, and align somewhat with FF Bruce e.g. "Israel and the Nations, Intervasity, Illinois 1933, 1997).
The tabernacle survived for 485 years (whose purpose is given in Exodus 25:8 - that "I may dwell amount them [the children of Israel]. First Temple 960 BC survived for 374 years, which was destroyed in 587 BC. Second Temple 515 BC survived for 586 years and was destroyed in 70 AD. This temple was essentially rebuilt by Herod the Great around 19 BC over 46 years. Third temple - to be built, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel and Revelation (A description of its and the activities, useful for the Christian is given by Alfred Edersheim (1994) "The Temple: Its Ministry and Services", Hendrickson, USA. Third temple desecrated in the 70th week of Daniel (Rev 11:1-2). Final temple - the millennium - there will be no final temple: "But I saw no temple in it (heaven), for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple". Revelation 21:22
 Ryle, J.R. (1982) Ryle's Expository Thoughts On The Gospel of John, vol 3, Baker House, pg114; Available online at http://www.geocities.com/johncharlesryle/index.html (Accessed November 2008).