Zeal for the Temple (John 2.12-25)

When did it happen?
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In the other three Gospels the cleansing of the temple is located just before the final betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus. Due to Jesus’ outrageous action, the Jewish leaders’ determination to have Jesus killed became even more vicious. But John tells the story already in Chapter 2 because it fits the context of the old yielding to the glorious new life – water made into wine, the temple yielding to the risen body of Jesus, new birth and life for Nicodemus. John therefore makes his typical introduction concerning time rather vague – “After this” (1.12). And, as in Matthew, Mark and Luke, he places it when it was “almost time for the Jewish Passover” and when “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (1.13).
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House of Prayer
The cleansing of the temple apparently took place in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the only area of the temple where Gentiles could come for prayer. Jesus was outraged therefore that it was being turned into a noisy, brash market-place. Jesus was deeply aware that God wanted his house to be “a house of prayer for all nations”, not just for the Jewish people. Once again we note the emphasis in the Gospels on Jesus’ worldwide concern for all nations. The biblical basis for international mission is central to Scripture. Let all nations come to pray in the presence of the God of Israel!

Matthew 21.13, Mark 11.17 and Luke 19.46 clearly have Isaiah 56.7 in mind: “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”. Jesus is therefore indignant that people have turned God’s House into a “den of robbers”. The market-place skulduggery and rank corrupt dealing calls for the radical cleansing which Jesus gives it in the use of a whip to drive out the sheep and cattle (John 2.15). He scattered the money-changers’ coins, overturned their tables and ordered that the doves should also be removed – the NIV’s “How dare you” (2.16) is in the Greek just a plain “Do not make . . . “, but it conveys the right feeling. What a scene it was!
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My Father’s House
In John’s Gospel we note Jesus’ passion for his Father’s glory. This will come up again and again. And we too should have the Father’s glory as the ultimate goal of our life and ministry – may the heavenly Father be glorified! Jesus’ emphasis therefore centres on the horror of turning “my Father’s house into a market” (2.16). It is not the temple in itself which is important, but rather the fact that it was the Father’s house. In recounting this, Jesus and John are evidently having Psalm 69.9 in mind: “zeal for your house consumes me”. Jesus must also have been thinking of the future sufferings which he would have to endure because the verse continues: “the insults of those who insult you fall on me”. But his primary indignation is that people are insulting the Father with their zealous money-making in his house.
The Resurrection
While the first three Gospels underline the fierce opposition of the Jewish leaders when Jesus drove out the market people, John merely says that the Jewish leaders ‘answered/responded’ (2.18) and asked him what sign (John’s usual word for Jesus’ miracles) he could show them to validate his right to cleanse the temple in this way. Then Jesus “answered them” (same word as in 2.18): “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days” (2.19). The temple as the place to meet God yields now to the more glorious temple of Jesus himself, the perfect sacrifice and access to the Father. In the resurrected Jesus we find salvation with new life and eternal life.
Faith through Word and Sign
God reveals through words. His words are no mere empty verbiage! Both the written word in Scripture and the spoken word of Jesus later convinced the disciples of truth (2.22). The Bible as God’s written Word continues through the centuries to have authority, the means by which God makes himself known. Muslims rightly teach that Scripture reveals the will of God, but the Bible goes even further in asserting that God reveals himself and makes himself known through Scripture.
While the disciples “believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”, the crowds “saw the signs he was doing and believed in his name” (2.23). In John’s Gospel it is frequently underlined that word and sign belong together. The ultimate purpose both of sign and word is that we might believe in Jesus and thus glorify the Father.
But Jesus saw that the people’s sign-based faith was shallow and unreliable, so he “would not entrust himself to them” (2.24). He demonstrates the gift of discernment to perfection. He sees us all and knows us through and through. But although Jesus knows us perfectly and discerns our every thought, nevertheless his love for us remains steadfast and true. Hallelujah!
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2 thoughts on “Zeal for the Temple (John 2.12-25)

  1. Bernard Dainton

    Question: how does Jesus violently clearing the temple square with his teaching to turn the other cheek and not to repay evil with evil? Does it teach us it is OK to use violence in defense of our faith?

    • richardsh

      It is great to think of you following my blogs on John’s Gospel. A hearty welcome! I trust you will find them encouraging, stimulating and helpful. Do get in touch and hopefully we can get together. Are you still associated with Traidcraft? In answer to your question, John seems to say that Jesus only used his whip to drive out the sheep and cattle, although he certainly was quite radical in stopping people from doing their market business in the Court of the Gentiles. I cannot imagine Jesus using a whip to hit other people. But if their cattle etc are driven out, the marketeers have no more purpose in staying there – and as Jews they would not otherwise want to be in the Court of the Gentiles.
      Thanks for your question.
      Warm greetings – and Happy Easter!

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