Jeremiah confronted his audience that despite their religious vocabulary, they had yet to know God. Judah said they believed—and even went through the motions of Israelite religion in the temple—but their lives reflected little of the mercy God had bestowed upon them. The Lord rejected Judah because the nation was rampant with idolatry and ignorant of their covenant obligations. Though the people thought themselves faithful, Jeremiah announced that the Lord rejected their religious observances (Jer 7:29) because they did not obey the Lord’s instructions (Jer 9:13).
Jesus and Paul employed the prophet’s messages found in Jeremiah 7-13 as they confronted the same arrogant attitudes in their day. Jeremiah’s references to the temple and human boasting become threads cohering the storyline of Scripture.
(1) Jeremiah and Jesus confronted their audiences for trusting in the temple but ignoring God’s purposes in it. In Jer 7:11 the prophet announced the Lord’s declaration, “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen it.” Jesus expressed the same perspective as Jeremiah. As Jesus entered Jerusalem just days before He was crucified, He went into the temple complex and saw that the spiritual condition of the occupants differed little from the days of the prophet. The throng of worshippers gathered for the Passover festival had taken over the court of the Gentiles and made it into a marketplace. Instead of worship there was distraction. After overturning the moneychangers’ tables, Jesus confronted the throngs in the temple by linking Isa 56:7 and Jer 7:11. Isaiah prophesied what the temple was supposed to be (a house of prayer for all nations) and Jeremiah prophesied what it had become (a den of robbers) (Matt 21:10-17//Mark 11:15-17//Luke 19:45-46). The religious leaders of Jesus’ day not only rejected Jesus and God’s purposes in Him, they set up structures that prevented the Gentiles from seeking God.
(2) Jeremiah and Paul confronted their audiences for superficial religious practices. Jeremiah asserted that though the people of Judah boasted in their spirituality, they did not know the Lord. Jeremiah declared to them the word of the Lord: the wise person should avoid boasting in their wisdom, the strong person should not boast in their might, and the rich should not look to riches for security. Rather, “the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me—that I am the LORD, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things” (Jer 9:23-24). Paul framed his correspondence with the Corinthians in light of Jeremiah’s ministry in Judah. Like Judah in Jeremiah’s day, the Corinthians had some of the externals of spirituality—which were causing divisions in the church as believers lined up behind various lofty spiritual leaders among them—but lacked a deep understanding of the cross and discipleship. Paul reminded them that God did not choose the spiritually elite, but the weak, insignificant, and despised, transforming them into vessels that bear the likeness of Christ. The Corinthians’ worldliness had no part in church ministry. Paul’s point was that any spiritual success among the Corinthians must be credited to God’s work in Christ, “in order that, as it is written: ‘The one who boasts must boast in the Lord’” (1 Cor 1:31, citing Jer 9:23–24). The sin of the Corinthians went beyond that of Judah in that the Corinthians had been made aware of God’s humility in Christ’s crucifixion; in the apostle’s mind, any Christian boasting must therefore be “in the Lord.” So significant was Jeremiah’s ministry that later, when Paul was defending his apostolic ministry to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 10, Paul again quoted Jer 9:24. Paul did not want to boast in another’s ministry but hoped that as the Corinthians grew in Christ, he could have further influence beyond them and in reference to them. Paul described his boasting in the Lord as just this: a spiritually mature Corinthian congregation that would support him in further evangelistic efforts that would in turn be commended by the Lord Himself (2 Cor 10:17).