18 So the Ioudaioi (usually translated as “Jews”) said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Ioudaioi then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
The authority that Jesus displayed in the prophetic action of cleansing the Temple was once again highlighting the basic question that was implicitly asked – “Who is and who should be in charge of God’s people, Israel?” The Gospel’s answer, predictably, is King Jesus. The text above, verses 23-25, must not be separated from the preceding verses 13-22, which describe the same thing – Jerusalem during the Passover. We must see verse 23 continuing what was begun in Jerusalem some verses earlier. In Greek, “Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people,” could and should (because of the overall context) be translated: “Jesus on his part did not believe in them, because he knew them all.” (Jn. 2:24) With this slight translation adjustment, what comes before and what follows in the Gospel account fits much better, especially with the follow-up of verse 25 (“needed no one to bear witness”).
This kind of formula, “show/tell us” (18 “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”), will be raised again by the Ioudaioi on several occasions. On each occasion, the point was that they were formally in charge of religious life in ancient Israel under Roman occupation. Jesus’ response could not have been more explicit than what he says in 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The authorities could not have been more devalued. This was the case whether or not they understood it as they did (2:20), or as they should have (2:21). Without bothering to explain what he really meant, Jesus denied the authority of the Ioudaioi.
One of the clearest examples of this “show us/I refuse” dynamic is found in John Chapter 10. The Ioudaioi challenged Jesus to submit his candidacy for Messiahship to them – the Jerusalemite leadership. Jesus refused, saying that his Father and his own deeds were enough to prove his authority, thus rejecting their authority:
The Ioudaioi gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed One, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’ (Jn. 10:24-27)
This text is most often read as an instance of Jesus’ general lack of clarity in declaring his Messiahship. However, I think this is unwarranted. The request of the Ioudaioi should not be read: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed one, tell us plainly,” but rather, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Anointed One, tell us plainly.” From the standpoint of the Ioudaioi, their authority to validate Jesus’ candidacy for Messiahship was not being honored. Jesus drew large crowds who followed him. The blind saw, the lame walked, lepers were cured, the deaf heard, and the dead came back to life. (Matt. 11:2-5; Is. 29:17-21) Jesus’ identity as Messiah was self-evident, but he had failed to declare himself as such to the Jerusalem authorities. This was the reasoning behind their demand. (How long will you keep us in suspense?) Jesus, however, consistently stated that his miracles, and therefore his Father’s witness of his Messiahship, were enough to establish him as God’s Messianic Servant. (Jn. 10:25-42) He refused to acknowledge the Jerusalem rulers’ authority over him and by extension, over the whole of Israel. Jesus was the one to whom Israel’s covenantal God had entrusted such authority and therefore, submitting himself to the illegitimate, or at least lower level authority of the Ioudaioi, was out of the question. (Matt. 26:63-64)
We see that the Ioudaioi assumed they had the right to approve or disapprove of Jesus, and were already engaged in the process of judging him. They challenged him at that time, and more explicitly later, to prove who he was. Jesus refused.