is a curious sense of timing to this action. It is just before Passover. The
devout Jew would, for seven days before Passover, have no yeast in his house.
Indeed, he was required to make a thorough search of the house to make sure of
this. The symbolic meaning is clear: before the angel of the Lord (the
pre-incarnate Christ) will pass over you in delivering death, you must clean
the house. We shall see that this symbolism underlies the actions described by
12After this he
went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There
they stayed for a few days.
13When it was almost time for the Jewish
Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle,
sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple
area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and
overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my
Father’s house into a market!”
17His disciples remembered that it is
written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”£
18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What
miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it
again in three days.”
20The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six
years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After 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.
23Now while he was in Jerusalem at the
Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed
in his name.£ 24But Jesus would not entrust himself to
them, for he knew all men. 25He did not need man’s testimony about man,
for he knew what was in a man.
John 2:12 through John 2:25 (NIV)
At first glance the actions of Jesus seem puzzling,
especially to the modern eye. We no longer have the temple described here, and
we transpose the actions in our minds to a modern church building. It seems
incongruous. Let’s take it step by step.
Why the anger?
The modern mind seeks an explanation. Jesus is ordinarily
a mild-mannered sort; when you are God in the flesh, you don’t need to go
about airing your wrath. Kindness in miracles is sufficient. So why, then, is
Jesus so angry?
Some writers see it this way. The money-changers and sellers
were, in fact, extorting the people who came to worship. You couldn’t pay your
temple tax in Roman or Greek coin; it had to be a special Hebrew coin. Your
sacrifices had to be unblemished; the priests who inspected them were in
cahoots with those who sold acceptable sacrifices. As some see it, the
extortion was the problem. No doubt they were extorting; but that really
doesn’t seem to be the reason.
Perhaps it’s not the extortion; it’s the buying and selling at
all in God’s temple. This is a little less comfortable answer for modern
Christians, who are used to buying everything from bake sale goods to Alaskan
cruises in the church. We prefer to think that the Tupperware lady who
delivers her orders on Sunday at church is just doing someone a favor. It
seems so innocent. But is this a sign of the decline in the church? I leave
that one to you.
There is one thing certain: his anger concerned the Temple. We
must remember that this is the one spot on earth in which God said his Name
would dwell. It is holy in a way that no church building can be.
But there is a parallel here. The Temple no longer
exists. But we know where God puts his name: it is in us. We are told that
we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and – surprise – we bear the Name of
Christ, for we are Christians. Note, please, that the Jews do not. If He took
a whip to drive out the wicked from his Temple of stone, how much more will he
drive out wickedness from the temples of the Holy Spirit?
Why didn’t he explain the prophecy?
The answer is plainly given: they weren’t ready to
understand the answer yet. It is only after the Holy Spirit comes that they
remember these words and understand.
The Jews, on the other hand, were unwilling. There is a
difference between the two. God will often bring to mind and repentance
something which did not seem a problem a month ago. You were not ready; so he
waited patiently until you were. But if you are unwilling, then things become
cryptic and you do not understand what he is doing. “A broken and contrite
heart you will not despise.”
Why did He not simply cite righteousness?
After all, to clean up an extortionist’s racket does not
require a miraculous sign of authority. It is clear from the text that all
accepted his authority to do this; so why didn’t he make everyone happy with
some spectacular miracle?
First, so that the Jews would have no opportunity to justify
themselves. Jesus was simply not interested in their excuses, and that’s what
he would have received.
More than that, He is the Christ, the Son of God. That’s the key
point – necessary for salvation – and he wanted the focus to be on Him, not
them. In essence, he puts himself on trial so that all will ask, “Who is this
The Nature of Moral Authority
I’ve told the story before, but it bears the repetition.
In the 1930s a riot erupted in a west Texas oil town. The riot soon turned
into looting, and the sheriff and mayor appealed to the governor for help. The
governor wired back that help would arrive by special train the next morning.
The next morning the train arrived. The sheriff was
amazed to see that the governor sent only one man: Henry M. T. “Lone Wolf”
Gonzualles. The sheriff blurted out, “You mean they only sent one man?”
“There’s only one riot, ain’t there?”
Over the headquarters of the Texas Rangers to this day is
the motto: “One riot, one man.” There is a moral authority in this world. We
seldom use it; indeed, “when what is vile is honored among men, how the wicked
strut!” But here we see such authority displayed.
Unity with the Father
The first essential in moral authority is unity with God.
When your purposes are his purposes, his authority goes with you. Note, this
is not “when God comes around to my point of view.” You’re the one who must
agree with Him.
In this instance, Jesus uses that moral authority to begin
his teaching. The one who cleanses the Temple will soon welcome sinners and
drunkards, tax collectors and political zealots. The one who claims this
authority will soon heal on the Sabbath. It is important for one and all to
know that he is not opposed to the Law. He is superior to it.
This zeal, this passion for the Name of God and the House
of God, is characteristic of Christ. It is also characteristic of the true
Christian. It is well written, “He who would save his life shall lose it; he
who loses his life for my sake shall save it.” This total commitment is the
mark of the true Christian.
The reaction of the Jews
Confronted with their own sins by one with moral
authority, the Jews do something unusual. The normal method is to dismiss
Jesus as being a lunatic, or one who is demon possessed. At the very least
they can spread some nasty comments around.
But they don’t. Confronted with true authority, they try
to push the question back on him. Just whose authority is this? Jesus does
not give them the satisfaction of a rabbinical answer. His fingers are not in
the cookie jar. So it is we see the reaction to moral authority: legal
He knows what is in a man
The Scripture makes it plain that God can read your
thoughts. He knows what you’ve been up to. It is also clear that to be a man
is to be a sinner. Knowing this, Christ does not completely reveal himself to
anyone at this time. He knows how fickle they can be.
We’re like that too, and perhaps we can understand this
from our own point of view. With whom do you trust your inmost thoughts? Do
you hand them out to casual acquaintances, or are they reserved for friends of
several years standing? So it is with Christ. We have the mind of Christ as
we have the Spirit, and only those who are his good friends and family can know
Importance to sinners today
At first we see a paradox in this passage. How is it that
the gentle Jesus of Nazareth becomes this firebrand who cleanses the Temple?
When you come to God, do you think he will leave you in your
sins? Will he not cleanse you?
And this process of cleansing, will it be more effective or less
effective as you grow in Christ?
Now, if your bodies are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and he
cleanses you (the temple) would he not also cleanse the physical temple as
Seek and save the lost
What really bothers us about this passage is simply this:
we spend much time and effort telling the world that Jesus saves; we proclaim
that “softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.” So what’s with this fury?
Joni Morse, a missionary to Thailand, tells a story which
might help us here. One of the things he does to win the trust of the various
tribes in Thailand is to offer to put in a system of plastic pipes with which
to bring in clean water. At one particular village, the elders were offered
this. There was great debate. Joni was puzzled; the women of the village
walked several miles each way to get dlean water; what possible objection
could there be? Finally the elders announced their decision. Yes, they would
accept the piping system – but only if Joni and his colleagues would first help
them level and build a soccer field!
Paul told us that he became all things to all men so that
by all means he might win some. Joni did the same thing here. He helped build
the soccer field, then put in the plumbing. Jesus, likewise, is doing the same
thing. For those who thought they had no sin, he is pointing out the hypocrisy
of their ways – with a level of anger reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet.
You see the point:
To those who know they are sinners, Jesus offers the light yoke,
repentance for sins, and “go and sin no more.”
To those who don’t he must first open their eyes. That’s one
reason he brings catastrophe on some. We shall see how he uses paradox on one
such person, Nicodemus, in the next lesson.
For those who bear his name, he cleanses us. That’s why
he emphasizes repentance so much. Indeed, it is necessary. In cleansing us he
is preparing a fit temple for the Holy Spirit. If you are his child, he will
do this. You will bear his Name, be in his Family – and rejoice at his Return.