13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;
16And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.
17And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.
18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
21But he spake of the temple of his body.
22When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
To understand that God’s house deserves respect.
To reveal to us that worshipping money is wrong. Worship God, he truly deserves His praise.
To reveal that Jesus came to save the world no matter the cost.
When Strange Things Make Sense
Have you ever been in a situation like any of these?
A friend offers a strange reason why you need to be in a particular place at a particular time. When you arrive, you find out a surprise party has been planned for you.
A coworker begins acting differently on the job. You learn later that the person is experiencing a personal crisis.
You hear strange sounds from the walls or attic of your home. You eventually discover that a wild animal has decided to make your home its home.
Most of us have witnessed or otherwise experienced something that seemed strange but later made sense. Life often presents riddles that we can solve only as time passes. This is the way Jesus appeared to the people of His time, even to His closest followers. His words and actions were often unexpected, strange, even offensive to some. To His opponents, He appeared to be degrading everything that was sacred. To His disciples, He seemed to be a mystery, a speaker of riddles.
Because Jesus did what people did not expect—and He did not do what they did expect—His words and actions appeared mysterious. But the mystery disappears when we grasp what God was in the process of bringing about. Viewed from the end of Jesus’ story, His mysterious deeds and words become astonishing indicators of what He accomplished. Things about Jesus that seemed incomprehensible become clear signs that God was at work to bring His saving work to its conclusion. Today’s story, about Jesus’ actions in the temple, is just such an indicator.
TIME: A.D. 27
The account of the temple cleansing of John 2:13-22 (today’s text) connects with a series of events that show Jesus responding to the differing expectations among the people of Israel regarding God’s saving work. These issues range from the Mosaic laws for purification (John 2:6), to the traditions of the Pharisees (3:1-16), to the predictions of John the Baptist (3:25-36), to the hopes of the Samaritans (4:25-42). The theme of fulfillment (prophecy) is very prominent in this section of John’s Gospel, which includes our text for today.
All four Gospels include the incident of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple. In this act, Jesus brought forth God’s standards of right and wrong.
John recounts that this temple cleansing took place near the time of the Passover (John 2:13), the time of remembering how God had delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. This yearly feast was a major event on the Jewish calendar, and called for faithful Israelites to gather in Jerusalem for the observance. We can expect, therefore, that Jesus’ actions in the temple at the time were witnessed by a large crowd of worshipers.
This is the first of three Passovers mentioned in John (the other two are in 6:4 and 11:55). John likes to connect the storyline of his Gospel to the Jewish feasts (see 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 7:2; 10:22; 11:55).
The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish religious life. Although the faithful of Jesus’ time regarded the temple as a supremely sacred place, it had also become controversial.
Likewise, it had become customary that only one kind of coinage could be used to give offerings to the temple. So money changers also did business in the temple courtyard, offering the acceptable coins in exchange for whatever coins the worshipers brought with them.
The coins deemed acceptable were from the city of Tyre, and may have been due to their high silver content. The worshipers eventually were forced to swap their money at exchange rates that were very favorable to the money changers.
Jesus revealed His zeal for God first of all by cleansing the temple (John 2:13-17). The priests had established a lucrative business of exchanging foreign money for Jewish currency, and also selling the animals needed for the sacrifices. No doubt, this "religious market" began as a convenience for the Jews who came long distances to worship in the temple; but in due time the "convenience" became a business, not a ministry. The tragedy is that this business was carried on in the court of the Gentiles in the temple, the place where the Jews should have been meeting the Gentiles and telling them about the one true God. Any Gentile searching for truth would not likely find it among the religious merchants in the temple.
Jesus’ Actions (John 2:13-17)
1. What was significant about the Jewish Passover to Jesus (John 2:13)?
The custom of Jesus’ time is that every faithful Jew who is able goes to Jerusalem to observe Passover. Each Jewish man was required to attend three annual feasts at the Holy City: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Deut. 16:16). The feasts mentioned in the Gospel of John are Passover (John 2:13; 6:4; 12:1), Tabernacles (John 7:2), and Dedication (John 10:22). The unnamed feast in John 5:1 may have been Purim (Es. 9:26, 31).
Though He deliberately violated the man-made religious traditions of the Pharisees, our Lord obeyed the statutes of the Law and was faithful to uphold the Law. In His life and death, He fulfilled the Law so that, today, believers are not burdened by that "yoke of bondage" (Acts 15:10).
2. What did Jesus find in the temple (v. 14)?
This scene is familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. The animals needed for sacrifice are on display for sale in the temple court. Those who exchange unacceptable coins for coins acceptable in the temple are at their tables. It is business as usual. The animals and the money changing tables had been established by the current Jewish leaders for several reasons. The first being for the convenience of the Jews who traveled a great distance to attend Passover, this allowed them to not have to bring their sacrificial animal on the long journey.
The sale of these animals also offered a profitable venture for the Jewish leaders. Some money changers profited greatly by charging excessive exchange rates. Evidently, selling and money changing had become a means of cheating and exploiting the people.
Jesus saw these merchants taking advantage of the pilgrims to Jerusalem. He was incensed by what He saw.
3. Why action did Jesus take to cleanse the temple (v. 15)?
Jesus’ actions are powerful and decisive. In modern terminology, Jesus would be called an extremist. He does not merely protest the activities; He puts a stop to them. Jesus made a whip out of cords. He then overturned the tables of the money changers and chased them and their animals from the Temple.
The overturning of tables and pouring out of money creates chaos for the money changers, now forced to gather their coins and perhaps argue over which coins belong to whom.
We can imagine a crowd of anxious Passover pilgrims surrounding the scene. The actions they witness are far from normal and so are disturbing. But they also provoke thought. What do these things mean? Are they the actions of a madman or something altogether different?
4. Who is Jesus speaking to in verse 16, and what is significant about His statement?
Our first hint of the explanation comes from the lips of Jesus himself. His words are significant for all, but John tells us that Jesus speaks directly to those selling doves, the animals sacrificed by those too poor to afford a sheep, goat, or ox (Leviticus 5:7). Jesus orders these merchants (and presumably the others too) out of the temple.
Jesus justifies His audacious command with another audacious statement. The temple is understood to be the house of God, the sacred symbol of His presence among His people. Jesus affirms that the temple belongs to God, but in doing so Jesus makes an unexpected claim in referring to God as my Father.
While the people of Israel occasionally refer to God as Father, they do so collectively, not individually: “our Father” is the more common form of address (Isaiah 64:8; Romans 1:7; etc.). When Jesus refers to God as His Father, Jesus implies that He has a relationship as God’s Son that is like no other person’s. Jesus has the right to act boldly in the temple because He enters the temple as the Son of the God to whom the temple belongs.
With that authority, Jesus declares that God’s house is not a place for merchandise. We can gather the reason for this statement by looking at those to whom the pronouncement is directed and the historical setting. This pronouncement is relevant to all, but it is addressed especially to those who sell to the poor. From the history of the temple’s leadership, we can infer that those leaders were known for enriching themselves at others’ expense.
God, by contrast, is gracious. He provides for His people’s needs and protects the weak. Sacrifice in the temple is a vivid image of this: God provides His needy people with the means to approach Him in worship and to receive His forgiveness. The needy are never to be exploited, least of all in God’s house! The true and right use of the temple centers on God’s amazing, sacrificial grace, which will be seen most fully in Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
What Do You Think?
What are some things that need to be “cleansed” from your life (1 Corinthians 3:16)? Why?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-Destructive thought patterns
-Inappropriate entertainment choices
-Wrong financial priorities
5. What scripture did Jesus’ actions cause the disciples to remember, and what was its significance (v. 17)?
When they saw His courageous zeal, the disciples remembered Psalm 69:9, "The zeal of [for] Thine house hath eaten me up." Psalm 69 is definitely a messianic psalm that is quoted several times in the New Testament: Psalm 69:4 (John 15:25); Psalm 69:8 (John 7:3-5); Psalm 69:9 (John 2:17; Rom. 15:3); Psalm 69:21 (Matt. 27:34, 48); and Psalm 69:22 (Rom. 11:9,10).
There was still a godly remnant in Israel who loved God and revered His temple (Luke 1:5-22; 2:25-38), but most religious leaders were false shepherds who exploited the people. When Jesus cleansed the temple, He "declared war" on the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 23), and this ultimately led to His death. Indeed, His zeal for God's house did eat Him up!
Jesus’ Announcement (John 2:18-22)
6. Why did the Jews challenge Jesus to prove His authority (v. 18)?
This spectacle aroused the indignation of the Jews. Their concern was not the moral issue of whether the sellers and money changers should have been there but rather on what grounds Jesus took it upon Himself to expel them. Jesus’ opponents keenly understand that to step into Israel’s most sacred space and put an end to the conventional way of doing things requires enormous authority. They now demand some evidence of that authority, confident that Jesus can supply nothing of the kind. Specifically, they ask Jesus for a sign. “The Jews require a sign” (1 Cor.1:22). But if they are given a sign, will they believe?
Often during His ministry, the leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign, and He refused to do, except for the sign of Jonah (Matt. 12:39). The sign of Jonah is death, burial and resurrection.
We know that Jesus performed miracles as He continued His ministry, some Jews believed but the majority did not believe even after miracles were performed.
What Do You Think?
When was a time that your church needed to change, but did not do so until a crisis forced the change to come? How did things turn out?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-An “internal” crisis (example: Acts 6:1-7)
-An “external” crisis (example: Acts 8:2b)
7. How did Jesus respond to the Jewish leaders (v. 19)?
Jesus used the image of the temple to convey this truth. "Destroy this temple [My body], and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19). As in so many instances, Jesus’ answer is indirect, like a puzzle or a riddle. Being spiritually blind, those who heard misunderstood what He was saying.
It appears to present a challenge to the temple leaders: if you tear down this temple, the base of your own power, then I will build it again, and in record time, proving that I am the one with real authority over the temple.
This statement reminds the hearers of God’s promise of a coming Son of David (compare Mark 12:35), who is to build the true house of God and establish an everlasting kingdom. If Jesus can do what He claims, then He is greater than Solomon, greater than Herod: Jesus is the eternal king promised by God.
8. What response did the Jews give Jesus when he referred to the destruction of the Temple and raising it again in three days (v. 20)?
Jesus’ opponents respond to His audacious statement. Herod the Great had begun rebuilding the temple around 19 B.C. The project continued long past Herod’s death and is just a little past its midpoint during Jesus’ ministry. Everyone knows that building the temple is taking decades. So how can Jesus possibly let it be destroyed and then rebuild it in three days? The statement seems preposterous.
9. What temple was Jesus referring to in His response to the Jews (v. 21)?
Jesus is not speaking about the destruction and rebuilding of the literal, physical temple in Jerusalem. He is speaking of himself as the temple. Thus Jesus is making a bold claim to fulfill what God has promised regarding the temple.
We often see the friends and enemies of Jesus misunderstanding His words in the Gospels. They frequently took Him literally when He was speaking figuratively. Those who study such things call this an issue of sense and reference.
That issue presents itself here with regard to the word temple. Most folks, ancient and modern, normally take the reference to be to a building used for sacred purposes. Such a building was considered the place where a divine presence resided.
By extension, the word temple is also used to refer to any place occupied by a divine presence. It is in this sense that the word takes on more of a spiritual than an architectural significance. The confusion of Jesus’ opponents is clear to us today: when Jesus referred to the temple, they thought of the physical building, but Jesus was referring to His own body. Perhaps it was self-imposed spiritual blinders that prevented them from catching Jesus’ real meaning. The warning of Isaiah 6:9 (repeated in Matthew 13:14; Mark 4:12; and Acts 28:26) still applies: “Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.” —J. B. N.
Nevertheless, all of this is hidden from those who first hear Jesus’ pronouncement of verse 19. That prediction is mysterious to them, but it is also memorable for its audacity. In the verse before us (v. 21), it is the Gospel writer—not Jesus or any of those present with Him at the time—who explains the meaning.
9. When did the disciples finally grasp an understanding of Jesus’ saying concerning the Temple (v. 22)?
The event that will reveal Jesus’ meaning is His resurrection, which occurs on the third day after His death. By rising from the dead, Jesus advances the fulfillment of God’s end-time promises. Through God’s Spirit, Jesus will be present with His people wherever they are. Through the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice, forgiveness will be available to all.
Jesus’ actions and words seem outrageous at the time. But what God does in Jesus’ resurrection is the demonstration that His startling claims are true. God made sacred promises in light of Israel’s most sacred institution: the temple. Those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. We should often remember and celebrate how God delivered us from bondage (John 2:13).
2. Let us not just analyze, but change the things that are not pleasing to God (vs. 14,15).
3. Jesus introduced a new kind of worship. Whereas the money changers had substituted convenience for compassion and sacrifice for submission, Jesus showed that the Father demands instead sincerity and truth in worship (vs. 16,17).
4. Jesus decided to risk fury of the religious authorities. Pure worship was a worthwhile goal that required drastic action (vs. 18,19).
5. Jesus showed by His sacrifice that He wants us to put Him first in our lives (vs. 20-22.)
JESUS HAS WHAT WE NEED
Jesus challenged some of the most powerful people and most entrenched practices of His day. He asserted authority over all of them, authority as the one who was fulfilling God’s promises. Whatever people had sought from the temple and its leaders, Jesus actually delivered.
Today, people around us accept various authorities and look to various sources to supply what they need. But Jesus is the one who can supply what they actually need. To regard Jesus as having such authority and power may seem strange, even foolish, to many. But if He is truly the one whom God raised from the dead, then we have nowhere to turn but to Him.
Where do we look to be supplied with what we need? Perhaps we rely on jobs, achievement, family members, friends. All of those are good in proper contexts. But there is only One who gives what we truly need. That fact should be reflected in our thoughts and actions.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that You have fulfilled Your gracious promises to us through Jesus. We ask that You strengthen us to live as those who have been touched by that amazing, surprising grace. In Jesus name we pray; amen!
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Purity in our worship expressions is still important.