God Doesn’t Build His House By Violence


God Doesn’t Build His House By Violence
Brian Zahnd

The New Testament begins with these words: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Or more literally: “The bible of the genesis of Jesus…”

Jesus doesn’t just pop into history out of nowhere—he arrives as the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David. He has a genealogy and that genealogy matters. The genealogy of Jesus is an essential part of the Big Story of the Gospel. If we don’t see how Jesus fits into the Big Story the Bible is telling we invariably reduce the gospel to postmortem hell avoidance. So how can we tell the Big Story of the Bible? It might go like this:

With Adam and Eve expelled from Eden’s paradise and Cain founding human civilization with bloody hands, humankind was set on a self-destructive trajectory away from God. In the generations to follow the migration away from God gained momentum and was marked by an exponential increase in violence. The corrupting violence of the days of Noah unleashed a flood of judgment.

Eventually God initiated his rescue mission by calling a man through whom he would begin to save the world. His name was Abraham. Abraham’s task was to leave the city of Ur founded on the Cain model and become the father of the family of faith. This faith family would be the chosen seed that would bless all the families of the earth. So the family of faith begins.


Jacob becomes the patriarch of twelve tribes. The twelve tribes of Israel find themselves slaves in Egypt. Moses leads Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land. Eventually David becomes the great king of Israel. David, having established his capital in Jerusalem, wanted to build a temple for the God of Israel. But God declined David’s offer to build a house for him, saying,

“You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth.”
(1 Chronicles 22:8)

David as a man of violence could not build the house of God. But God made this enormously significant promise to David:

A son shall be born to you; he shall be a man of peace. I will give him peace from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon (peaceful), and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for my name. He shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish his royal throne in Israel forever. (1 Chronicles 22:9–10)

At first glance it would seem that God’s promise to David—that he would have a peaceful son who would reign as king and build the house of the Lord—is fulfilled in King Solomon. But is it? Granted, Solomon built a temple that would be identified as the temple of Yahweh for four centuries, and in retrospect we can see Solomon’s temple prefiguring something better to come. But is that all Solomon built? No.

Solomon built a harem for his seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.

Solomon built temples to the foreign gods worshiped by his pagan wives.

Solomon built a professional standing army maintained by heavy taxation.

Solomon built all this with conscripted slave labor, including thirty thousand Hebrew slaves!

In a word, Solomon built…Egypt!

Solomon didn’t build the kingdom of God, he built a Hebrew version of the kingdom of Egypt. Solomon paganized Israel! What Moses led Israel out of, Solomon led Israel back into! Solomon built a mimicry of the pagan empires of the Gentiles. What Abraham was trying to get away from when he left Ur, what Moses led Israel out of in the Exodus, Solomon led Israel back into!

Solomon established the template for the kings of Israel to be little more then petty Hebrew imitation Pharaohs. Solomon is, at best, an enigma. If we view the Solomonic model of kingship as legitimate, we are going to have a difficult time understanding the radically different vision of kingship set forth by Jesus. (This is precisely why Jesus’ disciples had such a hard time comprehending what he was doing—they had wrong expectations about what kind of king Israel’s messiah would be.)

By the time Jesus was born the temple Solomon built had been destroyed, then rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and then greatly expanded by Herod the Great. But Jesus held little regard for Herod’s temple. He famously protested what the temple had become by borrowing the words of Jeremiah who had predicted the destruction of the first temple, saying: “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” (Jeremiah 7:11) When the Jerusalem aristocracy objected to Jesus’ denunciation of their magnificent temple, they asked Jesus what sign he would show them to justify his actions. Jesus’ cryptic reply and John’s commentary are enormously important.

“The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18–22)

Jesus explicitly predicted the destruction of the temple on several occasions. (Matthew 24:1–3; Luke 19:41–44; 21:20–24) But what Jesus is doing here is more subtle and more significant than that. Jesus is associating the destruction of the present temple and the construction of a new temple with his own death and resurrection. More importantly, in some mysterious way this new temple will be his body. And in case you haven’t realized it, we have discovered the true son of David, the true man of peace, the one who builds the true temple. Of course, it’s Jesus!

An idealized Solomon as the archetype of a wise and peaceful king was a sign that pointed to what was to come, but it is Jesus who is the true peaceful king who builds the eternal temple. It is Jesus whose royal throne God establishes forever. It is Jesus who is the true Seed of Abraham who blesses all the families of the world. Jesus is how God keeps the covenant promises he made to Abraham and David—promises to bless the world and build the temple through their seed. Jesus is the nation of Israel summed up in a single person. Jesus is the true Israelite who fulfills the mission of Israel to establish God’s kingdom, bless the nations, and save the world! This is why the New Testament opens by letting us know that Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham. Jesus is the one who is going to repair the world!

But how are we to understand the mysterious association Jesus makes between the temple and his body? To answer this question we have to consider what is meant by “the body of Christ.” Depending on who we ask the answer may differ. A Protestant will typically speak of the body of Christ as the church. A Catholic will typically speak of the body of Christ as the Eucharist. Who is right? They both are. To be more specific, the body of Christ is not one thing, or even two things, the body of Christ is three things:

First, the body of Christ is the corporal, physical body of Jesus—the body that was crucified, laid in a tomb, and resurrected on the third day.

Second, the body of Christ is the bread of the Eucharist; as Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my body.”

Third, the body of Christ is the community of Jesus followers who have been baptized and are sustained by the Eucharist.

There is the corporal body of Christ, the Eucharistic body of Christ, and the ecclesial body of Christ. All three are connected by the Holy Spirit to form the true living temple. (Ephesians 2:19–22)

The Apostle Peter speaks of the new temple being built out of living stones. (1 Peter 2:4–10)

No longer will the Israel of God be ethnically defined.
No longer will the temple of God be geographically confined.

Since the death and resurrection of Christ, the true temple has been comprised of the baptized—Jew and Gentile—and it is not limited to Jerusalem, but becomes the New Jerusalem filling the world and making the whole earth the new holy land! That’s the gospel in the context of the Big Story of the Bible.

And this is my point…

We cannot help Jesus repair the world and build the true house of the Lord if we remain fascinated with the violent ways of David the warlord.

It’s David the worshiper that God makes his covenant with, not David the warlord. The warlord cannot build the house of the Lord. It’s David’s peaceable Son who builds the true temple.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to draw us away from our misguided allegiance to nationalism, violence, and war, we can labor with the true Son of David to build a temple from which flows a healing river expanding the borders of peace. But to do this we have to believe in Jesus as the Son of David who builds the house of the Lord without violence.


(The artwork is Last Supper by Okaybabs)