John 2:12-25.
Jesus, LORD of the Temple

      American Journal of Biblical Theology,
Copyright © 2013, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

When we observe the Genesis narrative of the creation of Adam and Eve, we find one characteristic of the creation process that is different from everything else that was created:  God breathed His life into man.  Since that point in history, every human being has had the capacity to discern the presence of God, and every human culture has developed some form of religious worship that was based upon their own understanding of the identity and nature of God.  Born out of ignorance, virtually all of these religions were shaped largely by the spirit of man rather than by the Spirit of God, so they were (and are) carnal in nature, and they deny the truths of God’s true identity, plan, and purpose as revealed through the Holy Scriptures and as fulfilled in the incarnation of YAHWEH in Jesus, the Christ.  With so little true faith influence in the world, most of the world’s peoples experience their entire lives without an empowered relationship with God, and face eternal separation from Him.  There was (and is) a desperate need for people to hear the voice of the LORD.

Without any guidance from the LORD, the people were lost in the Babel of worldly religions with a precious few who actually knew the LORD and sought to follow Him in obedience.  These were people who received the knowledge of the LORD as it was handed down through the generations by those who knew God.  Old Testament history reveals several of these, people we regard as patriarchs who are documented in the lineages of faithful men such as Adam, Noah, and others.  God revealed His plan and purpose for the redemption of this lost world to Abraham as He repeated them through is promises to him and others who would place their faith and trust in Him.  The descendents of Abraham had the opportunity to know the One True God and respond to Him in faith.  When the LORD called Moses to deliver the descendants of Abraham from Egypt He taught them, through Moses, how to turn from the pagan religious practices of Egypt and worship Him.  Through adherence to the writings of Moses a “church” was formed that centered around the Tabernacle, and later during the period of the kings, centered around the Temple in Jerusalem.  Moses was able to teach the people to have faith in God, and to live in obedience to His will.

Through this pattern, Israel was to become a nation of priests, an holy nation who, knowing God, would bring that knowledge of Him to the lost world.[1]  Though that purpose has come to pass, that purpose did not find fruition until after the coming of the Messiah when, following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the gospel began to spread throughout the world.  The failure of Israel to live up to their calling as a nation of priests was due largely to their assumption of the authority of the Temple.  Rather than allowing the LORD to be the LORD of the Temple, they took that authority upon themselves, and rather than obeying the LORD, they worked to obey rules of their own making.

The state of the “church,” the community of those who expressed loyalty to the LORD had become increasingly carnal as faith had given way to tradition, and tradition had given way to laws to protect the traditions.  People had lost sight of God’s purpose for the Temple, turning it into a religious enterprise that conveyed an image of religion, but lacked any of its true power.  It is at this point in faith history that the Messiah came to the Temple.

John 2:12.  After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.

“After this’ refers to the wedding in Cana, an event that took place only a few days after Jesus returned after His baptism by John the Baptist.  Both Matthew and Luke record in parallel the baptism at the end of Chapter 3, and introduce the temptation of Christ in Chapter 4.  This was a time of fasting that likely ended only a few days prior the Cana wedding.  This would place the events of this chapter at the very beginning of Jesus’ redemptive ministry, perhaps within a couple of months of the baptism.

However, Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19 place this (or a similar) event at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  Some hold that the event recorded in the book of John was the first of several times that Jesus cleansed the court of the Gentiles, perhaps necessary every time He purposefully entered the court.  The description presented by John is quite gentle compared with those of the Synoptic Gospels that describe the similar event that took place at the beginning of the Passion week.  Others hold that this is a single event that took place when testified by the Synoptics and John simply placed it at this point in his presentation in order to organize his theological intent.

Jesus’ family home had been rooted in Nazareth following His family’s flight to Egypt, located in a region north of Jerusalem.  Capernaum was a larger city in this region, one where Jesus would exercise most of His ministry activity, far enough from Jerusalem to avoid inciting conflict with its orthodox Jewish leadership over His controversial teaching.  John makes a point in letting us know that they had not been in Capernaum long when the Passover celebration would take place.

John 2:13.  And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,  14And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:  

As was the tradition with most Jewish families who lived near enough to Jerusalem, Jesus, and the community that surrounded Him, would travel to visit the city and celebrate the Passover.  It is likely that Jesus had done this every year since His birth in Bethlehem.  What Jesus found at the Temple speaks volumes about the state of organized Jewish worship at this time.  When Solomon built the temple around 850 - 900 B.C. its grounds were wholly revered.  The presence of the Shekinah Glory, the Pillar of Fire over the Temple was a continual reminder to the people of God’s presence with them.  The primary function of the Temple was to serve as a gathering place where priests and others would teach the people about God, and it served as a place where sacrifices would be given to the LORD.  People would bring animals and goods for sacrifice, and in obedience to the Mosaic Law would turn them over to the priests who would administer the sacrifices, returning much of the remainder back to the families who would share it in a great feast.  This pattern continued until the destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C. when the last of the remnant of the faithful people of Israel was taken into Babylonian captivity by Nebuchadnezzar II. 

When the remnant returned to Jerusalem, the Israelites rebuilt the Temple and reinstated the system of sacrifices, but the Shekinah Glory was gone, seemingly forever.  As the dark years passed, the meaning behind the sacrifices became less important than the rules of the sacrifices.  People would travel to Jerusalem for the feasts, and because of the distance, rather than bring their first fruits to the Temple, they chose to take advantage of merchants who would be more than happy to sell them animals and goods for the sacrifice.  Note that the Law spoke of people bringing the first fruits of their labor to the Temple, not purchased goods.  This is another indication of how the people had forgotten the meaning behind the traditions and were bonded to the traditions themselves.

Initially, the sale of sacrifices took place outside of the temple, since its courts were revered.  However of the three courts of the temple, the outer court was less restrictive than the others.  Gentiles were allowed into the outer court to worship the LORD and take part in Temple activities there.  Gentiles were not allowed past the outer court of the Temple, even in the first century after the crucifixion of Jesus. 

By the time of Jesus’ birth, the merchants had moved their businesses into the inner court of the Temple.  It is likely that this practice was widely accepted since it was convenient for everyone concerned.  Jewish worship took place in the second (inner) court that surrounded the Holy Place where only the high priest could enter.  Jewish sacrifices were taking place at the entrance of the inner court.  To the first-century Jewish mindset this arrangement was both practical and preferred.  Gentiles were not particularly welcomed in the outer court, so there was certainly nothing controversial about this practice.

However, it is evident that Jesus was quite aware of this practice, as He had observed it from His childhood.  This practice was flawed in two ways.

·        First, the court of the Gentiles was to be a place of worship, just as was the inner court.  By filling the outer court with the mercantile of sacrifices, worship was displaced.  There was no place in the Temple where non-Jews could come and worship the LORD in this, what was supposed to be a, sacred place. 

·        Second, the merchandising practice itself was flawed.  The LORD never intended that sacrifices were something to be bought and sold, for such a practice is entirely inconsistent with the meaning behind the tradition, a meaning that they had long forgotten.  Tradition held that it was necessary that sacrifices be purchased with Hebrew money, necessitating the travelers to exchange their Roman coin for Hebrew at exchange rates that would greatly profit the money changers.  Between the profits taken by the money changers and the profits taken by the suppliers of the sacrifices, the people were being robbed by a system that enriched the Temple and those associated with it.

Up to this point in Jesus’ visits to the Temple, it was not yet appropriate that He do anything about this practice.  However, this time, His first visit to the Temple since the Baptism by John, His presence in the Temple took on an entirely new meaning:  The Shekinah Glory of God had returned. 

John 2:15-16.  And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

Each of the four gospels are in agreement that, when Jesus entered the Court of the Gentiles, He armed himself with a scourge and drove the merchants and their merchandise from the Temple, and did so without resistance.  There was little that the Temple leadership could do, simply because His reasoning for removing the money changers and merchants was impeachable. 

His cleansing of the Temple was not because the merchants and money changers were breaking any “rules,” in fact, the rules for the Temple allowed it by this time.  His cleansing of the Temple was in response to the cessation of worship and teaching in the outer court, a practice that denied access to Temple worship to non-Jews.  The worship of God was never intended to be limited to the Jews.  Called as a nation of priests, the Temple was to be a place where all would have access.  This is a reminder to us that God’s offer of salvation always was, and always will be, open to all who would come to Him in faith, without regard to their race, economic state, social class, or any other distinctive of human culture.

Some have used this passage as an argument to forbid the exchange of any goods anywhere on church property.  When we establish such a rule, we are actually copying the legalistic Jews who burdened the people with their rules surrounding the Temple, faith, and worship.  Such rules tend to have the same result as is found in Jewish history:  man-made rules tend to impinge upon the Lordship of Christ in the church as the faithful are forced to obey the church rather than the LORD.  All behavior of all faithful is to be subject to their obedience of the LORD as they minister one to another.  If that ministry involves the exchange of goods, it may be reasonable to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and discern if the practice is meeting the needs of people and is consistent with the purpose of the Gospel.  If any practice fulfills these two tenets, then it may be a very viable practice that blesses people and lifts up the name of the LORD. 

John 2:17.  And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up

The prophecy that is recalled by the disciples is recorded in Psalm 69:9.  The idea behind this passage is something that is relevant for the church today:  has our zeal for the church properties, facilities, and use caused us to displace the purpose that God intended?  All of Jewish culture centered around the Temple, and the Temple had become the supreme religious authority in their lives.  Those in the community who served as leaders were officers of the Temple.  Rules surrounding the temple were inviolable, without regard to the consequences or burdens that those rules may have brought upon people.  Temple leadership ruled over the people instead of the LORD.  Indeed, their zeal for the “house of the LORD” had served to destroy them, just as the prophecy had described.

John 2:18-22.  Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21But he spake of the temple of his body. 22When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

The Jews had traditionally held that the Temple was the one place on earth where God was present.  This idea was easy to defend when the Shekinah Glory stood over it and descended on the Day of Atonement to consume the sacrifice brought by the High Priest in the central room, the Holy of Holies.  However, the presence of God is not found in a building.  The LORD is omnipresent, that is, God is present everywhere in the universe.  There is no dark corner of the universe where God is not present.  Jesus emphasized that the presence of God is found in Him, not in the Temple building.  If the Jerusalem Temple were destroyed, as took place in 70 A.D., its reconstruction would take a great deal of time and resources, a comparison implied by Jesus statement that His is the Temple that, if destroyed, will be restored in three days.  This is a declaration to His disciples that He is the Shekinah Glory of God, the one for whom the Temple was intended to point.  Though the disciples did not understand Jesus’ statement at the time, they did realize His meaning after they witnessed the resurrection.  Indeed, the Jerusalem Jews venerated the Temple and the power that it brought to them, and completely missed the presence of the Messiah when He was present in its courts.

John 2:23-25.  Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

We should never forget that, amongst those who reject the gospel and mistakenly apply the LORD’s intention for the Temple, the faithful remnant always remains.  As people came to know Jesus, they observed much in Him that proved for them His identity as the Messiah, the LORD YAHWEH.  Since it was not yet time for Him to completely reveal Himself in Jerusalem, Jesus was wise in the means by which He related to the people there.  He spoke of His identity in metaphors and pointing to revealed scripture so that the people would testify to who He is, rather than do so Himself.  Though He exhibited authority in the Temple by driving out the moneychangers and merchants, He did not declare His identity as the Messiah, for He knew that to do so would have caused a riot as the people who were looking for a political solution to Roman oppression would turn to Him and attempt to raise Him up as a king.  He also knew that to do so would bring upon Himself the wrath of the Jewish orthodox leadership, something that He knew would come to pass.  However, it was not yet time, for they still missed the presence of the Messiah.

Has our church today missed the presence of the Messiah?  Like the Jerusalem Temple, has our church become an end to itself with its own set of rules and its own set of leaders who, with the tenets of the church, exercise control over the body?  This passage can be a reminder to us that the purpose of the church building is simply to be a gathering place for people to come for fellowship, for learning, and for worship of the LORD.  If we add anything to this that gives authority to the church building, the church organization, or its leaders, we are taking that authority away from the LORD.  Is the LORD truly the LORD of your church fellowship, or has His Lordship been usurped by its leaders, its polity, or its organization?  Let us not mimic the Jerusalem Temple, but rather place our lives in the hands of the LORD, looking to Him only as we gather together as the Church of Jesus Christ, submitting ourselves to Him alone.

[1] Exodus 19:6.