John 2:13 – The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
In our last post we examined the first miracle Jesus performed – turning the water into wine. According to verse 12, Jesus, his family and his disciples went to Capernaum for a few days immediately following this event. They only stayed in Capernaum for a few days, because Jesus wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.
As we all know, Passover is the name given to the feast that commemorates the night that the Lord ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites while visiting the homes of the Egyptians and destroying all of their first born males.
Exodus 12:13-14 – The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statue forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
According to the command of the Lord, Passover (and the feast of unleavened bread) was an annual observance for all Jews (Leviticus 23:4-8, Deuteronomy 16). In later times, the word ‘Passover’ was also used to denote the lamb that was slain at the feast (Mark 14:12, I Corinthians 5:7). Passover was symbolic of the sacrifice that Jesus would make for us on the cross.
Jesus attended four separate Passover/unleavened bread festivals during his active in public ministry. This is the first instance. The second can be found in Luke 6:1 and the third in John 6:4. Jesus then celebrated the final Passover just before fulfilling the role himself in John 11:55. Incidentally, this is one of the passages that scholars use to conclude that Jesus’ public ministry lasted approximately 3½ years.
Why would Jesus be so concerned about attending the Passover celebrations that occurred before his death? Why not just wait until the time came for him to atone for our sin?
The answer is that the law required all Jewish males to appear before the Lord three times a year (Exodus 34:23). Since Jesus came to perfectly fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17), it only stands to reason that he would attend each of these Passover celebrations.
But there is another reason as well. During the Passover celebration, the population of Jerusalem swelled to several times its ordinary number because Jews from every corner of the world came to celebrate Passover. When Jesus taught at Jerusalem during this time, a larger number and cross-section of Jews would have heard the gospel message and taken it back to their corner of the world.
John 2:14 – In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.
John now bears witness to the cleansing of the temple by Jesus. Scholars disagree on whether Jesus cleansed the temple once or twice. In my humble opinion, the most logical interpretation is that he did it twice.
In this scenario, the first cleansing (which happened very early in his ministry) is recorded for us here in the book of John, while the second cleansing (which occurred just before he was crucified) is what was recorded by the other three gospels. Obviously, you are free to make up your own mind on this issue; many sources are available if you want to study this further. But for this study, we will proceed as if this were the first of two cleansings.
The situation we find in the temple was something that God had originally sanctioned:
When the Jews appeared before the Lord, they were to bring sacrifices with them. They were also to bring a tithe of all their increase – grain, wine, oil, flocks etc and eat it at the temple, to remind themselves that the Lord is the one who blesses them. However, if you lived far away from Jerusalem, it would be very difficult to bring all those goods and animals with you. Therefore, the Lord allowed those who lived far away to sell the tithe for money, and bring the money to Jerusalem. Once at Jerusalem, they could then use the money to purchase what they needed (see Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
Deuteronomy 14: 24-25 – And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe… then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses…
In addition, each male was to bring a half shekel temple tax when he came (Exodus 30:13).
Overall, it sounds like a very simple straightforward process, right? But of course, mankind found a way to abuse the system that God had set in place.
The market no doubt began far away from the gates of the temple. But as time went on, merchants moved closer and closer to the gate in order to get the best/most profitable spots. They were also notorious for price gouging; those who came from far away had no choice but to pay the price no matter how exorbitant!
Seeing an opportunity, some of the corrupt priests and Levites actually rented spots inside the court of the Gentiles (the outermost courtyard) to these merchants! Can you believe it? Picture what that would be like: The noise, smell and excrement of animals… the sweat of the merchants and visitors… the constant din of voices as men haggled over prices or greeted friends and relatives… does that sound (or smell) like a good opportunity to engage in a reverent meeting with God?
But wait – there’s more!
It seems that some of the priests and Levites would accept an animal for sacrifice, then turn around and resell the animal back to the merchants, who then sold them again to yet another customer. It has been reported that the same sacrifice was sold to multiple different persons, and the money split between the religious leaders and the merchant.
But wait – there’s more!
Enter the money changers. Those arriving from foreign countries would naturally have different currency than what was in use in Jerusalem. The money changers performed the function of exchanging their foreign currency for money accepted in Jerusalem. Of course, they charged a premium price for making the exchange!
Overall, their temple was in definite need of cleansing. Sadly, so is ours.
In many churches today, sexual sins, drunkenness, cursing and other sins are no longer considered a big deal. The attitude of many Christians is ‘live and let live’. The mandate for personal holiness has all but disappeared. Today, many Christians are simply interested in attending for an hour and checking church off their list of weekly chores. If Jesus came into your church this Sunday, would he find things to overturn, cast aside, drive out or empty?
John 2:15 – And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.
Let’s pause and consider this for a minute. There are literally thousands of people in and around the temple at any given time. There are probably a hundred merchants/money changers, all getting rich from their trade. They had no intention of walking away from that opportunity and if someone tried to take it away from them, they would certainly fight back.
But even though the odds were in their favor (100 to 1?), the merchants do not fight back. Jesus takes complete control of the situation, and ruins their get-rich-quick scheme. How can we explain that? Where they afraid of the whip?
When we dig a little deeper, we find that the whip of cords was NOT the type used to punish criminals. That type of whip was made of leather and had pieces of metal or bone attached to the ends that would make a person bleed and could even kill them.
The whip of cords that Jesus used was made of twisted reeds/rushes. Its only use was to drive the animals from the temple. There is no evidence to indicate that it was ever used against people; even if it was, it wouldn’t have hurt. Clearly, it wasn’t fear of the whip that caused these hucksters to stand idly by while their businesses were destroyed. So what was it?
They were stilled by the authority of God which was clearly evident in Jesus. Whether through his tone of voice, or the look in his eye, or his forceful actions, they recognized divine authority when they saw it and they knew better than to challenge it. They were rendered inactive by a deep conviction for their own filthy sin as they watched Jesus passionately defend the honor of his Father.
John 2:16 – And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Notice that Jesus identifies himself as the Son of God. As such, he has the right and authority to cleanse the temple of his Father.
And it certainly does need to be cleansed. It has been corrupted by the greed, lust and wickedness of men. It needs to be purified and restored to a state of holiness, so it will be fit for the worship of God.
We are very much aware that once Jesus died and rose again, the age of grace was ushered into existence. God no longer dwells in buildings made with hands; he lives in the hearts of his people. This makes each of us a temple of God.
I Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
What is the state of your temple? Has greed, lust, wickedness or sin moved in? If so, it might be time for spring cleaning. Can we commit to zealously cleansing our own lives from sin so that we are fit to properly worship God?
John 2:17 – His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This is an Old Testament quote from Psalms 69:9. The meaning is that the Messiah would have (and exhibit) great zeal for the pure worship of God.
Zeal is defined as ‘passionate ardor in the pursuit of anything; eagerness for a person or cause; ardent and active interest or fervor’.
Have you ever had zeal for something? Like maybe playing a sport, or making music or even raising your kids?
If so, you know that it’s almost like your whole world revolves around that one thing. It’s the first thing you think about when you wake up, and the last thing on your mind when you fall asleep. You plan your day so that you have time to be involved in it. You budget your finances so that you have money spend on it. You read about it, daydream about it and talk about it. You seek out the company of others who are also zealous for the same thing you are. It really is a consuming way to live.
Of course as humans, we are always in danger of crossing the line into sin. If we are not careful, some of the things we are zealous for can take the place of God, and become an idol in our lives.
Jesus, however, never had that problem. He was perfectly zealous for the pure worship of his father. It was proper for him to cleanse the house of God.
John 2:18 – So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
And here comes the push-back that we all expected! Remember, the priests, Levites, money changers and a whole lot of merchants were getting filthy rich at the temple. Naturally, when their enterprise came to a sudden halt, they were going to find out why.
The first thing I want to bring to your attention is that the religious leaders do not openly oppose Jesus.
This incident happened in the midst of Passover. During that time, the entire Roman army was on DEFCON 1. At the slightest hint of trouble, they were going to shoot first and ask questions later. They could not afford to have any trouble, especially among the Jews and/or at the temple. If rioting broke out, they could lose control of the entire city.
The point is, if Jesus had truly done something wrong, all the religious leaders had to do was call the temple guards and have them detain Jesus until they could fetch the Romans. But they didn’t.
The second thing I want to call to your attention is that they never denied that they had made the temple a house of trade instead of a house of worship. Neither did they deny that reform should take place. Instead, they question the authority of Jesus to make these reforms.
In the minds of everyone present, Jesus had acted with the authority of a prophet.
There hadn’t been a new prophet from God in 400 years, so if God was sending them one now, he should be able to prove it by performing a miracle or a sign on demand. Or so the religious leaders thought.
But regrettably, they were so spiritually blind, they overlooked the miracle of the cleansing itself! It was one man against a great multitude. He was unarmed. He was unknown and unsanctioned by the religious leaders. He destroyed or displaced the business and money of a lot of people. Yet no one dared to oppose him, or attempt to stop him.
John 2:19-21 – Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Jesus does give them a sign, but it is not the kind of on-demand miracle they are looking for.
As is often the case, Jesus gives them a sign that requires the hearer to seek further understanding. It is full of revelation, meaning and life to those who earnestly seek to understand it, but it is worthless to those who don’t. In other words, he who has ears to hear will understand, while others will not (Mark 7:16, Luke 14:35, etc).
In this instance, the sign centers around the double meaning of the word ‘temple’.
‘Temple’ obviously refers to the very wood and stone edifice they are all now standing in; the Holy place where God’s presence dwells. But this temple was just a shadow of the true temple standing in their midst – the body of the Incarnate Word.
The religious leaders had no reverence for the one; they made its outer court a place of illegal gain that was fast becoming a den of thieves. Their very demand for a sign as they challenge the authority of Jesus shows they have no respect for the other.
Both temples will be destroyed, but only one will be raised again. The resurrection of Jesus will be the foundation and corner stone of God’s new spiritual temple.
Is there anything that Jesus is trying to get you to search out?
Proverbs 25:2 – It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings to search things out.
Are you actively asking God for wisdom or understanding in some matter? Has he spoken to you in dreams or visions? Are there portions of scripture that seem mysterious to you?
These are all reasons to further ‘search out’ a matter. Too often, as Christians, we are looking for quick and easy answers or a list of rules (do’s and don’ts) to live by, when God is looking for a relationship. He desires to have communion with us; he longs for us to know him better. He wants us to spend time in his presence, where he can reveal mysteries to us. He longs to impart wisdom and knowledge to us that will benefit us and the world as a whole.
Particularly in this present time, Holy Spirit is seeking to reveal his plans and purposes for this age to those who will listen and partner with him to bring about the greatest harvest of souls the world has ever seen.
But if we don’t accept his invitation to search out a matter, we will miss what he has for us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be that person!
John 2:22 – When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
If we read this verse carefully, we find that the resurrection of Jesus did two things. It caused the disciples to believe and understand the words Jesus spoke at the temple that day concerning his own body AND it caused them to ‘believe the scripture’. What scripture or scriptures would that have been?
One possibility is Psalms 16:10:
Psalms 16:10 – For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
This Old Testament verse is often referenced by the apostles after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2:31-32, Acts 13:35-37). It is used as proof that he was the Messiah.
Another possibility is Psalms 2:7-9 (particularly verse 7):
Psalms 2:7 – I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
This passage of scripture is also referenced by the apostles and used to refer to the Messiah (see Hebrews 1:5, Hebrews 5:5, Acts 13:33).
The overall meaning of this verse is that in light of the resurrection of Christ, the disciples understood these Old Testament scriptures in a different sense than they had previously. Sometimes you and I will go through circumstances or events that deepen or expand our understanding of the scriptures as well. When this occurs, it binds us even closer to God. What example can you give from your own life?
John 2:23 – Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
Now that his public ministry has begun, Jesus ‘jumps in with both feet’. He taught about the kingdom of heaven and the Father confirmed that word with signs and wonders.
John 2:24-25 – But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
Jesus did not maintain any ongoing fellowship and communion with these people as he did with his true disciples, because the true seed of faith had not yet taken a firm root in the lives of these Jews.
Jesus could discern that they would quickly abandon the faith when he didn’t match their understanding of who the Messiah was. (They were expecting a Messiah who would be welcomed by the religious leaders. They were expecting a conquering Messiah, who would overthrow Rome and set up his own earthly government.)
Jesus could, in fact, discern everything about them; he knew everything that they hid within their deepest hearts.
Hebrews 4:12-13 – For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
As we mentioned in our introduction, one of John’s great themes in this gospel is to assert the divinity of Christ. Here he declares the omniscience of Jesus; Jesus did not understand the hearts of these men because God revealed it to him – he immediately understood and discerned it for himself. Therefore, he is divine.
Let me offer you some encouragement and relief:
What new areas of your spiritual walk are you currently searching out? If the answer is ‘none’, then you may have a problem. God is always challenging us. He is always seeking to bring us into deeper levels of revelation and fellowship with him. I encourage you to ask him to show you something new. And when he does, search it out!
Let me offer you some strength:
The temple in Jerusalem was in bad need of a cleansing. What is your temple like? Is your personal holiness better than ever or has some dirt/sin crept in? It isn’t easy to take an honest look at yourself and admit your shortcomings, but it will be worth it. Ask Holy Spirit to reveal to you any areas that need to be cleansed. It is far better for you to do the cleaning voluntarily, than for Jesus to send a situation to bring it to the surface!