Jesus: The Man of Action, 2:13—25

Of all the stories of the things Jesus did while on the Earth, the cleansing of the Temple courts ranks up near the top.  In it, we see of side of Jesus we don’t see very often; not the gentle Shepherd or eloquent Teacher, but a decisive man of action.  This is a brief account, but we see an excellent example how sin repulses God and His response to it.

1.  Setting the scene, verse 12

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

This verse serves as a note of geographic transition and notes the passage of time, as indeterminate as it is.  From the higher ground of Cana of Galilee, Jesus, His mother Mary, His brothers—James, Joses, Jude, and Simon (Mark 6:3)—and His disciples journeyed down to the low-country of the lake-side until they reached Capernaum.

Because we know when Passover occurs in the calendar year, we can backtrack and be fairly sure of the logical dates of the events recorded.  Jesus in late February or early March changed the water into wine, and from Cana He attended the Passover festival in Jerusalem, which was held in early spring (sometime in April).

Most scholars are of the opinion that Jesus cleansed the Temple not once but twice, once at the beginning of His ministry and once near the end (the second cleansing is recorded in the Synoptics; Matthew 21:10—17; Mark 11:15—19; Luke 19:45—46).

2.  Cleansing the Temple, verses 13—17

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Verse 13, though seemingly innocuous, contains an extremely sad commentary on the state of the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus.  Notice that John calls this feast “the Jewish Passover,” yet in Exodus 12:27 it is referred to as “the Lord’s Passover.”   The once-great celebration had, over the intervening centuries, degenerated into just another religious feast.   In fact, Passover by the time of Christ had become an excuse for religious leaders of the day to exert considerable control over the general population and fleece them even more than they had been doing the rest of the religious year.

There is a minor but very profound warning for Christians.  In 1 Corinthians 5:7, our Lord Jesus Christ is referred to as “our Passover.” We must be ever-vigilant to ensure that the sincere observances of our faith never become yet another excuse to just “get together” for fellowship or a meal.  May God help us to keep Jesus Christ the reason for everything we do as Christians.

The fact that Jesus went up to Jerusalem was no surprise.  It was required of every Jewish male from the age of 12 and up to attend Passover at Jerusalem.  We can only imagine how hurt Jesus must have felt upon entering the Temple court.  Instead of being greeted with the din of worshipers entering and leaving, the filth and stench of a barnyard was all He saw and smelled.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.

Certainly having all kinds of animals wandering around the Temple area during this time of year was not unusual since they would be used in the sacrifices.  But the selling of animals and the changing of money was the thing that galled Jesus the most.  The vendors were on site selling to those worshipers who had to travel a great distance the kinds of animals they were required to present at the Temple for their sacrifice.  What was particularly despicable about this was that these vendors would not accept any kind of money save the special Temple money.  So before animals could be purchased, the pilgrims had to exchange their money with on site bankers, who of course were happy to do that, for a tidy profit of course.

Why did all this happen?  The religious leaders of the day have figured out a way to make religion easier; the animals and the moneychangers were there for the convenience of the worshipers.  In reality, however, because of man’s ideas the whole system was opened up for abuse and corruption and deception.  The Holy Temple, ostensibly the house of God and a house of prayer, had been transformed into a den of robbers.

So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”  (verses 15, 16)

This was Jesus’ response to what He experienced upon entering the Temple area.  Filled with holy zeal, Jesus drove out all traces of the animals and the vendors, and then He turned His attention to the moneychangers.  What Jesus told these men was reminiscent of His reaction to His parents the day they lost Him as a boy in the Temple—

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  (Luke 2:49)

What Jesus did this day was entirely within His character and His nature as the Father’s only Holy Son.  Many people are under the false impression that Jesus is all about being “meek, mild, and gentle.”  While Jesus is the embodiment of love and once describe Himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29), there is much more to Christ and this incident illustrates His “other side” with clarity!   Jesus Christ did not and does not deal lightly with sin.

  • He is light that shines in the darkness, John 1:5;
  • He insulted King Herod, Luke 13:32;
  • He confronted the Pharisees in anything by love, Matthew 23:24, 27, 33

This whole, wild scene must have triggered something in the memories of the disciples—

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  (verse 17)

The verse they remembered and related to what they saw is Psalm 69:9.  Strangely enough, this one single verse is one of the most oft quoted OT verses in the NT.  It is seen an astonishing 17 times throughout the NT!

3.  The demand for a sign, verses 19—22

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”  (verse 19)

Though John refers to these questioners are “Jews,” in keeping with his custom of referring to the enemies of Jesus as “Jews,” the author is obviously referring to some religious authority, probably part of the Temple administration.  Their demand for a sign was pretty typical of the way religious leaders felt about Jesus during His ministry.  In fact, later on, Jesus would comment on it while talking to the Pharisees—

A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  (Matthew 12:39)

The Jews had an inclination to demand a miracle as a basis for their acceptance of the reality of the divine truth—they would believe only if they could see—

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?  (John 6:30)

But their question this time was far more than just a request for a sign.  It was a direct challenge of Jesus’ authority to do what He had just done.  Jesus’ answer was simple, but with double meaning—

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  (verse 19)

What we have here is a mashal; a paradoxical saying.  Jesus would become known for using these frequently in His career.  They were veiled and pointed remarks, often sounding for all the world like a riddle.

This mashal is full of words with more than one meaning.  The word “destroy” in the original is a term that could mean tearing down a building or killing a human body.  “This temple” could refer to either a sacred shrine (like the Holy of Holies, for example) or it could refer to man’s body as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.  Finally, “I will raise” is an expression used to denote the reconstruction of a building and the resuscitation of individuals.

Because the Jews were not spiritually minded, Jesus’ meaning was completely lost, they assumed He was referring to Herod’s temple, which had been in the process of being built for 46 years and remained uncompleted in the days of Jesus.  John knew that Jesus was actually referring His body, which He would “raise up” in three days.

The Jews saw only with their eyes; they saw only the physical temple and sanctuary in front of them.  Had they studied the Scriptures which they knew so well in faith with a believing heart, they would have understood.

Verse 22 seems to indicate that this mashal stuck in the minds of the disciples for a long time.  It also gives us an insight into the minds of the disciples, for though they walked with Jesus for three years and witnessed many miracles, they failed to grasp its full meaning.  It wasn’t until Jesus rose from the dead that the full truth of Christ’s teaching was believed by the disciples.

After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Lessons we can learn

Hendriksen suggests four immediate lessons:

  • By cleaning out the Temple, Jesus confronted the secular attitude of the religious Jews.  One should never temper with holy things.
  • He exposed graft and greed within their religion.
  • Jesus assailed the anti-missionary spirit and hypocrisy of the Jewish faith:  the court of the Gentiles had been built specifically as an invitation for them, Gentile converts, to join them, the Jews, in worship of Jehovah.  Instead, it became hijacked for mostly commercial reasons.
  • The whole incident fulfilled Messianic prophecy, Psalm 69 and Malachi 3.
(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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