In the Gospel of John we see the many faces (or attributes) of Jesus Christ. Throughout we see Jesus’ grace, compassion, love, willingness to perform miracles, and his heart of servanthood. We often skip over the fact that Jesus also gets angry. It is not the kind of anger that led to sin and unrighteousness, instead it is the kind that is geared toward sin and unrighteousness. We often refer to Jesus’ anger as righteous anger. In today’s passage the Apostle John gives us a first hand account of Jesus’ intolerance toward sin being present in the Temple of God. Not only do we see his intolerance towards sin we also witness his somewhat violent response to the individuals who were the cause or promoters of sin. This is a side to Jesus that we rarely see but when we do see it we must take note as to why Jesus’ response was the way it was. In today’s passage we will look at the actual account of Jesus cleansing the temple; we will see its significance, its symbolism and how his response to sin should be our response to sin.
We live in a society that pushes and promotes tolerance and acceptance to everything that when it comes to sin the Church today has become tolerant of sin and unrighteousness on a grand scale. God is not tolerant and accepting of sin in our lives and in the the body of Christ. His attitude of love, grace and compassion toward the sinner never changes but this does not mean he will allow it to remain. We as Christians should have the same attitude towards sin in our personal lives and in the Church at large.
The Cleansing of the Temple
Verse 12 – After the wedding ceremony (or the changing of the water to wine) Jesus, his mother, his half brothers and the five disciples went about 16 miles Northeast to Capernum.
We now come to our first seeming discrepancy in the Gospel of John. In the other Gospel accounts Matthew, Mark and Luke (or as we will call them the Synoptic Gospels) the Temple cleansing occurs near the end (the last week) of Jesus’ ministry. John Gospel account varies how this event is recorded, what details are given and obviously the placement of this event (John puts it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry). There are two views on this discrepancy 1) The Gospel of John is not necessarily written in chronological order. 2) There were two separate cleansings of the temple. There is no clear evidence as to one or the other. There are some who believe that there were actually two temple cleansings. Others believe John’s Gospel account was written in a topical or (theological) order rather than sequential. They believe John wrote in the order of important events in order to build on the points he is trying to make throughout the Gospel instead of how they happened chronologically. It is impossible to determine whether it was one occurrence or two but a natural or a more literal reading of the Gospels as a whole would suggest two. I don’t want to spend time defending how or why I just wanted to point out there is a discrepancy and there are two possible reasons as to why it is the way it is. Feel free to continue on your own as I think some of the arguments for and against either one are fascinating.
Verse 13 – Passover was at (probably late March early April). If we take the literal view of this passage we would find Jesus traveling from Capernum to Jerusalem for Passover*. This was about a 120 mile journey.
* Passover was a Jewish Festival celebration that took place in late March early April to commemorate the Angel passing over the door of the Israelites home during the final plague in Egypt.
Verse 14 – In the temple… This would be considered the outer courts (Court of the Gentiles) of the temple. During Passover week there was heavy traffic in the temple and people would travel from great distances to offer up sacrifices and pay temple taxes. So instead of dragging along cattle, sheep or dove on your journey one could buy an animal to sacrifice in the Temple courts.
Money Changers – There were money changers in the court who would convert money to the approved currency (since people came from all over there was different currency) and they would charge a percentage or service charge for changing the money over. Because of the imperial Roman portraits they carried, Roman denarii and Attic drachmas were not permitted to be used in paying the half-shekel temple-tax (the Jews considered the portraits idolatrous). The money changers exchanged these coins for legal Tyrian coinage at a small profit.
Verse 15 – He drove them out… The Temple was the center for worship of God, it was not “just another church” this was symbolic of the epicenter for all religious worship of the God of Israel. Seeing what the people where doing infuriates Jesus because they were profiting from God. The place that was intended for worship and cleansing of sin had become a place that harbored sin and evil. The Father’s House (which was intended to be a holy place) became a place of evil, sin and thievery. It became the antithesis of what it was intended to be.
Verse 16 – “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” D.A. Carson writes, “Jesus’ complaint is not that they are guilty of sharp business practices and should therefore reform their ethical life, but that they shouldn’t be there at all.” What Jesus does here could have easily incited a riot and it could have turned out bad for all. There were huge profits made during this time and Jesus was demanding that this stop…
Verse 18 – The religious leaders respond in an unusual way… Instead of having him arrested for this outbreak or even brought before the High Priest for claiming God is his father they instead ask Jesus for a sign to justify his display of authority. A person who did such a thing as Jesus did would certainly be questioned by the temple authorities. However the fact that they asked Jesus for a sign does show that they may have been a little suspicious as to whether Jesus was indeed a prophet or the Messiah. They were looking for Jesus to do a supernatural sign to prove that He had the authority to be driving out the money changers and salesmen.
Verse 19 – 22 Jesus tells them the only sign he will give them was to have them destroy the temple and in three days he will build it again. This was a seemingly preposterous statement by Jesus. The leaders replied that it took 46 years to build this temple and you claim you can rebuild it in three days. The irony is they were asking for a supernatural sign and Jesus was offering it to them by having them destroy the temple and having it rebuilt in three days. It would take a supernatural even for this to happen. However Jesus was not talking about the physical temple he was talking about the spiritual Temple. His body is the Temple and it will be destroyed, however after three days it will be fully restored and alive once again. Jesus was in essence saying that the time of the temple was coming to a close and He is now the true Temple. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ there would no longer be a need for a Temple because Jesus will be the fulfillment of the law and the sacrificial system will no longer be necessary.
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple has significance for us today. This event was a sign to show that God demands pure worship from us. Sin (i.e. profiteering from the name of God) will not be tolerated. It is not just the sin of profiting off the name of God that Jesus is against. He is against sin in the body as a whole. This place of worship (the Temple) had become a den of thieves, of sin and was in need of a cleansing or purification. This goes for us today and for the Church today. God will not tolerate openly committing or accepting sin. On a side note there will always be sin present in the church or in a persons life (because sin is ever present in us as humans) but when a church or individual starts allowing or openly accepting sin to reign or be present without dealing (looking past it or not wanting to confront it head on) it then there will be consequences and God will clean house. To some this is comforting and to others this is simply terrifying.
In Corinthians Paul declares that the Temple (physical building) is no longer necessary because the new Temple is the body. The building is not the church, you are the church and if we are allowing sin to run rampant in our lives then God will not/cannot bless the body. He desires that we be a holy body and we cannot be holy on our own. It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we may be holy. It is ironic in some ways we are called to be holy but we can only be holy if we do not have the Holy Spirit in us. What I am saying is we as a body need to be vessels of the Holy Spirit. I suggest you and I begin praying that God would search our hearts and our lives and do a spiritual “house cleaning” if you will in our own lives so that He may bless this body and your life in ways that we could never imagine. He is for you and He wants to have a relationship with you that is unhindered by sin and unrighteousness.
We may have this unhindered relationship with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through his death and resurrection we now have forgiveness from sins, we have freedom from sin and we have faith to live our lives for the glory of God.
Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.
 Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel According to John p. 179 Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdman’s Publishing Co.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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