“Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? ...” (Matthew 23:16-22)

“You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the One who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the One who sits on it.” (Matthew 23:19-22)

What is the gift?

What is a "gift"? Jesus is referring to an offering made to God. The Greek word δῶρον (dōron) refers to something given to someone else as an offering. This is what devoted people did in ancient times when they approached an altar of God. They brought an offering and presented that to the altar. This is essentially an offering made to God - assuming the altar was to God.

After all, why does a person give someone a gift? To express their care for the other person. To express their love. The ancient teachings of the scriptures referred to offerings as a facility by which to please Him:
"Bring the grain offering made of these things to the LORD; present it to the priest, who shall take it to the altar. He shall take out the memorial portion from the grain offering and burn it on the altar as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD." (Lev. 2:8-9)
God doesn't need any grain or anything else - just as a woman doesn't need a little flower that a man may offer to her. An offering is given to express love. To please the other person.

In the same way, the original purpose of making an offering to the altar was to express one's care for God. The focus of an offering is essentially to please the Supreme Being.

Jesus taught the importance of making offerings

By Jesus' statement, we understand that he also taught the importance of making offerings. He also instructed elsewhere:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24)
and
“See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matt. 8:4)
"The gift Moses commanded" refers to making an offering to the Supreme Being. Reaching out to Him with a small gift. A token, but something that has meaning (food has meaning because it sustains the life of the body). A humble offering made with sincerity. This was an integral part of Moses' teachings, as evidenced in the Old Testament.

The Supreme Being owns everything. He doesn't need our stuff. But He appreciates offerings made with humility and sincerity. And since the Supreme Being's presence is not limited to the temple, we can make an offering from anywhere. We can pick a flower or fruit and make an offering - in the name of His loving representative Jesus - from where we stand - which will help bring us closer to the Supreme Being.

The Supreme Being is practically forgotten within these sectarian churches. While they focus upon Jesus as if he were God, they completely ignore the very Person Jesus was trying to teach his students to come to know and love. This is why Jesus stated:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt. 7:21-23)
This indicates that Jesus is not interested in people pledging his name - he is interested in his followers coming to know, love and serve ("does the will") the Supreme Being - whom Jesus is distinguishing from himself.

This Supreme Person Jesus is referring to is also spoken of specifically in the verse above:

"... by the One who sits on it.”

When Jesus refers to the temple he is not referring to a building. He is referring to a place where the Supreme Being is worshiped. It is a personal thing to Jesus.

And who is Jesus referring to as the "One" who "dwells in" the temple and "sits on" God's throne? Certainly, Jesus is referring to the Supreme Being.

By worshiping the things of this world, including our reputation, possessions, money, fame, power and position - we become beholden to those things. By desiring the things of the world, we become "bound by" the demands of the physical world.

This desire for material things comes from a place of self-centeredness and misidentification, because we are intending to make ourselves happy, and we are incorrectly identifying ourselves with these temporary physical bodies.

Jesus is telling them that while they are focused upon the trappings of their positions - their temples, their salaries, their titles, their authority and their prestige - they were forgetting the Supreme Being. And by becoming focused upon the material trappings of their positions with the temple, they had become enslaved by - and blinded by - the desires for those material trappings.

And due to the ignorance created by this enslavement, they were not able to teach the Truth, as Jesus was doing.

Those Jewish priests also became "bound" to those political councils that authorized them. They were bound to the responsibilities of their political positions.

The temple is not just a building

It is important to note that the temple Jesus is referring to here (or church, mosque or another place of worship) is not a building, just as the altar being discussed is not some physical materials. The Temple housed the Altar, and the Altar was seen as the representation of God. It is a place where God is worshiped. It is thus inseparable from God.

Although God can be prayed to anywhere, and reached from where ever we are, an authorized Temple and Altar - one that has been approved by God and anointed by a representative of God - is a place where those who want to re-establish their relationship with God can put their heads to the ground and submit to Him, and offer gifts to Him.

These activities - offering homage and offering gifts - are the stuff of relationships. Why? Because by offering the Supreme Being gifts, we are able to re-establish our loving relationship with Him.

This is a universal law of relationships. If we like someone we barely know, and want to come to know them better and get closer to them. What do we do? We find some way of getting in front of them, where we can offer them some kind words, and offer them a gift. This is what people do, because this is the stuff of relationships.

We can also have a relationship with God

Yes, we can also have a relationship with the Supreme Being. God is not a monolith or a vague cloud or booming voice. God is a person. He is the Supreme Person, and we can each have a personal relationship with Him.

Certainly, anyone can have a building built and put a symbol on it. This does not make the building a real Temple or Church. What makes it a real Temple is when a loving servant of God humbly requests God's presence to accept His loving servant's worship. On behalf of His loving servant, God will indeed come into that place, and there in that Place, others can connect with God in the spirit of the relationship between God and His loving servant.

A building constructed with lots of stained-glass windows, large hallways, golden symbols, and a big congregation area is not a real Temple if it is constructed for any other purpose other than to glorify God. If it is built to support the organizational objectives of a religious sect then the building will just be another building - not a Temple of God. It might be a pretty building, and that’s about it.

So what motivates God to authorize a location to become a Temple? What motivates Him to become present and accessible within a Temple?

Love.

God is attracted by those who out of love, desire to serve and please Him. Whenever such a person humbly asks the Supreme Being to be present within a location that was prepared for Him with reverence, God will come and be present. Why? Out of love. It is because of His loving relationship with His loving servant.

This is why the places where Moses, Abraham and other loving servants of God established as temples were so special to Jesus, as he states here.

In fact, where ever such a loving servant of God has exercised His relationship with God is a Holy Place. Why? Because God was personally present at that Place as He exchanged a relationship with that loving servant.

Buildings erected by those only interested in gaining respect, followers and authority - especially among those collecting salaries for their teaching positions - are not able to create such a Holy Place. Jesus has explained this previously:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7:15-18)
Ironically and sadly, some of the bad fruits of offensiveness that Jesus pointed out concerning these ecclesiastical Jewish temple officials is also taking place today in the name of Jesus.

How can we distinguish between a "wolf" and someone who teaches the Truth?

--Teaching the Truth is never a paid professional position.

--Someone who teaches the Truth doesn’t otherwise personally profit from their teachings.

--Someone who teaches the Truth does not abuse their followers.

--Someone who teaches the Truth does not seek to gain followers.

--Someone who teaches the Truth does not seek to gain positions given by a council of people. Teaching the Truth is not politics.

---Someone who teaches the Truth does not make up a new religion or speculate on the Truth. They only speak from knowledge given to them.

--The Truth is always consistent with scripture, as applied to the current time and circumstance.

--Someone who teaches the Truth never teaches that they are God or that we are all God. Someone who teaches the Truth is a humble loving servant of God, someone who asks each of us to also become God’s humble loving servants.

--Someone who teaches the Truth also practices those teachings.

We can see by the above things that Jesus taught the Truth. His purpose was to help others, not profit from his position of authority.

Jesus' primary teaching was clear:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-40 and Deut. 6:5)