Cleansing the temple. Studying John 2:13-17

Passover in the first century 

In Jesus’ day, at Passover, it was a time of year when Jewish people from all over the Roman world would come to Jerusalem to observe this sacred holiday. 

Imagine that you’re a Jewish person in the first century and you’ve gone to the temple for Passover. It’s not a temple. It’s THE temple. 

And then you see a man you’ve never seen before. You don’t know who he is. Maybe you can’t even hear his words, but he has some sort of whip that he’s made and he’s driving the merchants away from the Temple. He’s driving the oxen and the sheep away from the temple. 

Jesus in the Temple

John 2:13:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 

The opening of this passage ties the story to a time of year. It’s Passover. Passover is an annual Jewish holiday which celebrates the Jews being freed from Egyptian slavery at the beginning of the Exodus. It would also be at the time of Passover when Jesus was crucified. 

At this time, Passover was celebrated in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was, and is, a monumentally important city. It had been the capital city of God’s Promised Land during the Israelite Kingdom. 

And Jesus goes to the Temple. 

Throughout this Gospel of John, the apostle makes several references to various Jewish holidays. And he frequently makes references to Passover. We see it here in chapter 2 as well as John mentioning Jesus being part of the Passover festivities in chapters 6 and 11. 

John is referring to different years. 

John tells us what Jesus sees. Verse 14: In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 

As I mentioned, Jewish people would have come from great distances to celebrate Passover. And part of Passover involved making various animal sacrifices. 

The sacrifices had to be animals that were healthy, without blemish, without defect. But if you were traveling from a great distance, tending to an animals and keeping them unharmed and healthy as you journeyed could be a pretty daunting task. 

So what many would actually do was buy an animal at the temple. 

Defiling the temple

So that’s the first group. People who are selling the livestock. 

The text also refers to money changers at the temple. What that’s referring to is that when people would give money to the temple, it had to be the appropriate currency and so they could exchange their coins for the appropriate coins which would be used in Jerusalem…for a fee, of course. 

So between people selling livestock, and money-changers, the Temple grounds became an area of commerce at Passover. 

That’s a problem. 

Verse 15-16: 

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. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

So Jesus drives the merchants out of the Temple. 

When is the temple cleansed?

One other thing which should be noted. While we’re at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and he’s clearing out the temple. 

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see Jesus clearing out the temple, cleansing the temple at the end of his ministry. 

In Mark and Luke, Jesus’ cleansing the temple actually precipitates the religious authorities seeking to have him crucified. 

At the end of the temple cleansing in Luke 19, it says:

And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him (Luke 19:47).

Why is the story found at two different times? 

Some scholars have argued that John moved the story up because he’s more concerned with themes than chronology and that he did this for theological reasons. 

I think there’s a simpler solution. 

I believe Jesus cleansed the temple on two different occasions. Jesus does it here in John 2 at the beginning of his ministry. Then he does it again a couple years later and it is that later event which is recorded in the other gospels. 

If you compare the story in John to the story in the other gospels, the things Jesus says are different, the sins Jesus is exposing are different. John did not move up an event. He is describing an entirely different event from the other gospels.  

Once again, John’s Gospel ends by saying that Jesus did more than could ever be recorded (John 21:25). It’s certainly possible that Jesus cleansed the temple more than once. 

To say that John just moved the story up overlooks that John actually focuses a lot on timing.

Do not make my father’s house a house of trade

Jesus drives the people out and he says: “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:16). 

The merchants are taking a sacred space and commercializing it. Jesus has righteous indignation at what they’re doing. It’s not that selling livestock or charging a fee to exchange currency are inherently bad things in themselves. 

But it’s the misuse of the temple property that is an offense to Jesus. 

Undermining the sacred 

As a society, we often overlook the sacredness of life and institutions. 

Marriage is sacred but nearly half of them end in divorce. Our world doesn’t treat it as sacred, set apart, and from the Lord. 

Life is sacred. But in America, nearly a million babies are aborted every single year. More and more states are legalizing euthanasia for people who are terminally ill. In European countries who allow euthanasia, there’s an increasing push to allow euthanasia for young, able bodied people who suffer from depression. That’s not meant to criticize people who have depression, but to criticize a society who would give justification and legal legitimacy to a person opting to end their own life. Life is sacred. 

The name of the Lord is sacred, but people throw that around and curse by it. We must have reverence for God. 

And that’s one of the mistakes that cultural Christianity makes. We make God someone we casually approach. We couldn’t approach him at all but for the work of Christ. We were so unholy, so unworthy that it took Jesus’ death to make us worthy. 

And for that, let us praise the Lord. 

But may we not lose sight of the holiness of God because Jesus brings redemption. Let the work that he has done, the price that he has paid, the grace that he extends further deepen our appreciation and reverence for God’s sacred character and righteousness. 

You can never have too high a view for the holiness and sacredness of God. Jesus is at the temple and they’ve turned it into a marketplace. 

While churches might not do that specific thing, there are still many things which American churches do which totally undermines the sense of reverence which we should have for the bride of Christ. 

Churches often pander to the culture to try to get people in the doors. 

I recently asked members in a theological Facebook group of the most ridiculous gimmicks they’ve seen churches resort to. 

One church did a guns and Jesus study where they had a brief devotional and then went shooting. 

One church turned their sanctuary into a haunted house for halloween. 

A pastor did an advent series where he wore a different costume every week including a Frosty the Snowman one week, Buddy from Elf another week, etc. 

One church did a several weeks long sermon series on the Tim McGraw song “live like you were dyin.”

There are pastors who have ridden into worship on motorcycles, hoverboards, and segways. 

There are churches which do raffles and giveaways to get people to go. Some churches have even given cars away. 

The list goes on and on and on. 

None of those things would be so bad on its own, outside the context of worship and church. 

But it’s when you feel that preaching the gospel, and teaching the Word of God isn’t enough and needs your own creativity than there’s a problem. 

In 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Paul says:

when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Our society says “to each their own,” “live and let live,” “follow your truth,” “whatever makes you happy,” “whatever floats your boat,.”

All of those communicate a general apathy for the world around us. 

As Christians, we are not called to apathy. Now we can’t change what everyone does or thinks. But let us not fall into the trap of becoming apathetic to the things which are sacred. 

Verse 17 says: 

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

That phrase is taken from Psalm 69 which is a Psalm David wrote. 

Psalm 69 is a lament of the injustices and difficulties of life and of following the Lord. Several verses in that Psalm apply to Jesus and to the church. 

But in this place, there’s one verse in particular which would be remem

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