Summary: The righteous indignation of Messiah at the desecration of the Court of the Gentiles.
A SCOURGE OF SMALL CORDS
It was Passover, and the city of Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims who had gathered to commemorate Israel’s deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. Not only was it a solemn religious celebration, but also a great national statement that defied all who would dare to oppress them in the future. No doubt tensions were high, and Roman soldiers mingled with the crowds around the great concourse of the Temple (roughly equivalent to the cloisters of a Western Cathedral).
For those who were expecting Messiah to come and immediately judge the Gentile nations, it must have come as a shock to find that His public ministry would begin with a purging of the Temple in Jerusalem. Such people were confronted with the reality that God’s programme is different from our programme (Isaiah 55:8-9). Judgment begins, and must begin, at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
Entering the Temple, Jesus found those who were selling sheep and oxen, and doves. Moneychangers sat at tables exchanging foreign currencies for the Temple shekel. All this took place in the court of the Gentiles, thereby denying the nations a place to draw aside from the hubbub of their busy lives!
The Temple shekel was a coin minted in Tyre, and renowned for the purity of its silver. It was engraved with an image and superscription (cf. Luke 20:24) which may well have raised a few eyebrows amongst the devout. The image was of the Phoenician Baal-god, and the superscription celebrated Tyre as a holy city of refuge!
This was all taking place with the evident collusion of the priesthood. After all, (they probably reasoned) did not the people require animals for sacrifices, and money for the Temple tax? Jesus was disgusted to find such trading in His Father’s house, and He reacted accordingly.
There is, after all, such a thing as ‘righteous indignation’ (cf. Mark 3:5). Divine anger is always righteous anger, directed against sinful behaviour and human injustices. It is also tempered with mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).
Human anger is more liable to be tainted by sin, so we are warned to be on our guard against intemperate demonstrations of it (Ephesians 4:26-27). In any given situation: (1) are we right to be angry; and (2) is the expression of our anger suitably temperate?
Certainly the Lord’s actions in the scene before us are the most violent, and in some ways therefore the most shocking. To purposefully create a scourge of small cords also suggests that He was in complete control of His emotions: as He was in His Passion throughout. We are not told whether the cords contacted flesh, human or animal: possibly the contrary may be true, as He was careful to protect the doves, commanding their salesmen to take them out of there!
After Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, the Jewish authorities asked Him to show them a sign to legitimise the authority by which He was doing these things (John 2:18). His answer referred them to another Temple: the temple of His body – but they did not, or chose not to, understand (John 2:19-21). This is perfectly in keeping with John’s theology of the incarnation, whereby the Word became flesh, and set up His tabernacle amongst us (John 1:14).