The apostle John begins this section by pointing out that it was the time of the Jewish Passover, and therefore Jesus went up to Jerusalem. It is important to keep in mind that John is not recording his gospel in chronological sequence. The other gospel accounts place this event toward the end of Jesus’ ministry. There is no reason to assume that there were two temple cleansings, since each gospel only records one temple cleansing event. John has moved this event to the front of his gospel with the purpose of generating belief in Jesus (John 20:31). Therefore John is not merely offering another retelling of this event (I believe the other three gospels were already written and circulated by the time John’s gospel was written). John does not have to write his gospel like a newspaper reporter, recording facts in chronological sequence. His purpose is to proclaim and persuade about Jesus. John is trying to teach us something more about Jesus in this scene. John moves this event toward the front of his gospel to emphasize how this event teaches us about the ministry of Jesus.
Bearing in mind that since John is not recording the events in his gospel in a chronological sequence, but a theological sequence, then marking Jesus’ life by counting the Passovers in this gospel is a mistake. To count the Passovers mentioned in this gospel and determine that Jesus’ ministry lasted two and half or three years is a superficial reading of this profound and rich book. Stating that it is the Passover is not an offhand statement. We will consider the meaning of the Passover and its relation to the temple as we go through this lesson and next week’s lesson.
Temple Court Scene
Jesus enters the temple complex and finds people selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons. Further, there were money-changers sitting there. Now we need to ask why there is this marketplace in the temple courtyard. For the Passover, a male Jew was to bring his animal as an offering. But one can readily see the impractical nature of bringing an animal a long distance to offer. How were you going to bring a lamb from Asia Minor or Italy and keep it without blemish on the long journey to Jerusalem? The pigeons and doves, which were the sin offering for the poor, were also made available for sale at this time. So this marketplace was set up as a convenience to the Jews who were coming to the city to offer their sacrifices. It was also at this time that the temple tax was collected (Exodus 30:13-14). Every male Jew who was 20 years old and older had to pay this each year. Since they were coming into the city for the Passover festival, it was an appropriate time to also collect this tax. The payment of this tax could not be made in foreign currencies like the Roman denarii, which contained pagan symbols and the images of emperors. Therefore the money had to be exchanged for the appropriate temple currency (apparently Tyrian coinage because of its pure silver content).
Jesus turns this situation into quite a scene of upheaval. Jesus makes a whip out of cords and drives the sellers and moneychangers, along with the animals, out of the temple complex. Further, he poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. Verse 16 contains the key to understanding Jesus’ actions. Notice that Jesus does not call out the exorbitant fees and exchange rates that these vendors were charging for this service (cf. Matthew 21:13; Luke 19:46). That is the observation of the other gospel accounts, but not John. Notice what John records Jesus saying, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus’ actions were not directed against the merchants’ or moneychangers’ profits but against the fact that business was being done in the temple courts. This activity was likely being done in the Court of the Gentiles. This was the place designated for the Gentiles to come to the temple and worship God. This was to be the place of prayer and thanksgiving. The Jews had turned this courtyard into a marketplace, interfering with the worship of others.
This is a tremendous warning for us concerning our perception and acts in worship. First, let’s be clear that the church building is not the temple. The presence of God is not contained between these walls like the temple represented. But the parallel is that this is the place of worship. There is such a danger that in our effort to make things convenient that we lose sight of why we are here. This is one reason why we do not have a coffee shop in the lobby like many churches have now. The purpose here is not to make money or take your money. We will never sell you anything. You will never have to buy a sermon CD or study booklet. The purpose here is worship. We operating based on your generosity. The reason we are not drinking coffee and having potlucks in here is not because this is some sacred building but because we should have a singular focus when we come together: glorify and worship God. We don’t need snacks, treats, and drinks. We need to put aside the distractions and come to fountain of living water, and drink deeply. It is awful that we have made worship about us. We have turned the worship of the true and living God into a consumer-driven experience, as if this is about our comfort, convenience, and desires. We are here to worship the Lord and we must be keenly aware that we are not interfering with other people worshiping God today because we are causing distractions. Nothing should be done to turn our hearts away from focusing on the glory of the Lord.
Jesus is the loyal Son purifying his Father’s house of its impure worship. Rather than focusing on worship, the focus was on trade and making money. This action along with his words draws upon some messianic prophecies. Zechariah concludes his prophecy with these words:
And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zechariah 14:21 NRSV)
Further, Malachi made a similar prophecy that the Lord would suddenly come to his temple so that people will be able to offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord (Malachi 3:1-3). The Lord would come and denunciate the false worship that was occurring. “It was a prophetic invitation to worship God from the heart, without clamor or distracting influences” (Carson, 179). Jesus is removing the barriers that interfered with true worship of the Lord. What would our Lord Jesus think today about the “worship” that occur his name today? Every aspect of worship is about glorifying God, not making things convenient for ourselves.
The Disciples’ Reaction
The reaction of the disciples to this event is also notable. They remember a particular scripture: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:17 ESV) This quotation comes from Psalm 69. Before we examine the background of this quotation, I want us to consider what the disciples did not think about. They did not think that wrath of God stands against the disobedient. It is not wrath that they think of but zeal. The point is that Jesus is not flying off the handle in a fit of rage. This is a calculated response from the zeal Jesus has for his Father’s house.
When we go back to Psalm 69 and read what is happening to David, we will recognize that this quotation has been misunderstood. David is not saying that he is so overwhelmed by his zeal for the Lord’s house that it is consuming him. Rather, David is speaking about the hostility he is enduring because of his zeal for the Lord’s house. Verses 7-8 of Psalm 69 reveals David describing how he has been dishonored, suffered reproach, and is cut off from his family. Zeal for the Lord’s house has led to this intense hostility against him. These other people do not understand his profound commitment to the Lord’s house. Zeal for God has put him in this difficult position.
In the same way, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple testifies to his concern for pure worship and a right relationship with God. But it is this very concern that is causing opposition. In fact, notice that John uses the quotation in a prophetic way: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” This love for the Father and for pure and holy worship will be the catalyst for coming hostility.
Notice the rest of Psalm 69:9. “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” (Psalm 69:9 ESV) In speaking about himself and all he was enduring because of his love for the Lord, David was also prophesying about the coming Messiah and all he would enduring for his love of the Father. The apostle Paul takes this prophecy and applies it to Jesus in Romans 15:3.
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:1–4 ESV)
Our zeal for the Lord must be so great that two things will happen. First, our zeal for the Lord will cause us to deal kindly with others. We will build up one another and seek to be pleasing to them, not ourselves. We have an obligation toward one another in this effort. Second, our zeal for the Lord will bring resistance and hostility from others. It happened to our Lord. It happened to David. It will happen to us if we are displaying the same fervency and devotion to our Lord and to his worship. Those who do not love the Lord will take it out on us.