We know that we have a history in our Western tradition of reading Scripture in literal terms. Jesus addresses this problem in his ministry. We read in Matthew 24:1 that Jesus and his disciples were looking at the buildings of the great temple. In Matthew 24:2 we read: "And Jesus said unto them, 'See not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.'" And in Mark 13:1, we read: "And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.''' Traditional Christians interpret these readings to mean that someday, the temple shall be destroyed physically. Some actually believe that this passage is a reference to the physical body of Jesus and his impending resurrection. It is true that the Romans destroyed the great temple in 70 A.D.; however this physical destruction has little bearing on the practical and existential development of the human being and the message of Jesus.
The metaphorical reading of this passage has to do with the destruction of a mindset, the annihilation of mistaking the concept for reality. The temple is a perfect representation of the ideologies that have been built up and passed down for centuries. These had become fossilized and widely and unquestionably accepted by Jewish society. The temple represents the pinnacle of Jewish thought. But Jesus' message was revolutionary; it spoke of a change of focus from the external to the inner world of the human heart. Jesus was living in a time when worship had become, in his day just as in ours, a mere formality. It was a time when the Jewish tradition was losing its vitality, meaning and ability to inflame the heart. God was dead, just as some would argue that He is today. When Jesus speaks of the destruction of the temple, he is speaking of the destruction of fossilized ideologies that no longer energize the human heart and that have lost the spark of mystery and vitality and sensuality of life. Rather, these fossilized ideologies oppress humanity and weigh it down rather than reconcile it to Life. And when referencing the physical body, Jesus may be drawing a parallel distinction between the decay of ideologies and the decay of the body. He is saying that we all must utterly destroy in our minds the preconceived notion of God so that Reality can shine through; we must level our entire system of thought about the Absolute. We must kill our idols if we are ever to understand the message.
Carl Jung writes: "Once metaphysical ideas have lost their capacity to recall and evoke the original experience, they have not only become useless but prove to be actual impediments on the road to wider development. One clings to possessions that have once meant wealth; and the more ineffective, incomprehensible, and lifeless they become the more obstinately people cling to them… Thus in the course of time the meaningful turns into the meaningless."9 Anytime the message becomes fossilized or hardened to form an ideology or a theology, we must abandon it. That is, if the core or impulse of the message is overshadowed by its structure or form, then we have lost it entirely. Likewise, should Jesus become the root of a theology, an ideology, then he will have become an idol and we must kill him in our minds. The message itself reflects life, which is constantly changing. It is like a bird in flight. If we capture the bird, we imprison it; it will have lost its essence or reason for being. Our formed image of God is a stumbling block and therefore, to have an intimate experience of God, we must extinguish our idea of Him. This thought is echoed by the Christian mystic Eckhart: "Man's last and highest parting occurs when, for God's sake, he takes leave of God."
If we accept the destruction of the temple to represent the idea above, then Jesus' cleansing of the temple makes perfect sense also. We read in Matthew 21:12 that Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling. He also overturned the tables of the money changers saying to them, 'It is written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robber's den.” This buying and selling in the temple refers to the idea that virtues such as love and compassion and God are no longer authentic but have become something to be traded or possessed. Jesus is saying that religion has become a form of idolatry and a system of bartering where people pray to God to achieve or possess something. When Jesus tips over the tables of the moneychangers, he is also unbalancing the whole system of thinking and perceiving to which people have become accustomed. This episode represents the destruction of the concept or idea as a substitute for reality. Money, as mentioned previously, is a symbol of wealth, competition and possessions and it had come to take over the temple, which is a symbol of inner experience, reflection and perception. The sacred temple, which is the human heart, had become overshadowed and violated by concepts or ideas that have no real or everlasting value; therefore it had become withered and dead. We do not need to stretch our imagination to see that the human heart has become withered in our own time. Once again, Jesus' words, when interpreted through metaphor, are ever-present and applicable in every age.
9 Carl Gustav Jung - AION – The Self