Summary: If Christ showed such zeal in cleansing an earthly temple, He will use zeal in cleansing another temple, the believer’s life, also.
JOHN 2: 13-17
CHRIST CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
The other Evangelists do not record this cleansing of the Temple at the beginning of Christ’s ministry, but, as we all know, tell of a similar act at the very close of Jesus’ ministry (Mt. 21:12f; Mk. 11:15-17; Lk. 19:45f). John, on the other hand, does no mention the latter incident. The question then arises, are these different accounts of the same event? The answer seems to me to be no, because John’s Gospel is intended to supplement the other three, and to record incidents either unknown to, or unnoticed by them, and, as a matter of fact, the whole of this initial visit of our Lord to Jerusalem is omitted by the three Evangelists. Then the two incidents are distinctly different in tone, in setting, and in the words (sheep and oxen etc) which Jesus speaks. They are both appropriate in their placement, the one as the initial and the other as nearly His final public act on earth. So we may learn from the repetition of this cleansing the solemn lesson: that outward reformation of religious corruptions is of small and passing worth. God desires pure worship in the inner most man.
Now, this narrative has many points of interest.
I. Passover in the Temple, 13-14.
II. Purifying the Temple, 15-16.
III. Passion for the Temple, 17.
We pick up John’s narrative in verse 13. The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
The festival is called the Passover of the Jews because of John’s many Gentile readers. The Passover was the annual commemoration of the great deliverance of the people’s from the land of slavery (Ex. 12). A one year old male lamb without blemish was killed (on March 14th) in the afternoon. That evening a detailed family celebration took place (see John, NTC, Hendriksen, p. 122). Many oxen and sheep were offered up in sacrifice to God as the Festival of Unleavened Bread continued for seven more day (Ezek. 45:21).
John speaks of three (2:13; 6:4; 11:55 on), possible four Passovers (5:1). The Passover was one of the three occasions in the year when the Law required males (12 years and up) to “appear before Yahweh” (Dt. 16:16). “Went up” is the usual word for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or to a feast (and does not necessarily denote ascent (John, Leon Morris, p. 192). Jerusalem was both the religious and political capital of Palestine, and the place where the Messiah was expected to arrive. Jewish families from all over the world would travel to the imposing temple for the feasts.
Verse14 records what Jesus found going on in the temple. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
The temple area was always crowded during Passover with thousands of out-of-town visitors. The religious leaders crowded it even further by allowing money changers and merchants to set up booths in the court of the Gentiles. They rationalized this practice as a convenience for the worshipers and as a way to make money for temple upkeep.
The temple tax had to be paid in local currency, so foreigners had to have their money changed. The money changers often would charge exorbitant exchange rates with commissions being 12 ½ per cent (John, F. F. Bruce, p. 74). The people were required to make substitutionary sacrifices as offerings for theirs sins. Because of the long journey, many could not bring animals. Some who brought animals would have them rejected for imperfections. So animal merchants had a thriving business, a business they moved into the temple court yard.
It was profitable to the sellers, and no doubt to the priests, who were probably sleeping partners in the concern, or received rent for the ground on which the stalls stood. And so, being convenient for all and profitable to many, the thing became a recognized institution.
But the religious leaders did not seem to care that the court of the Gentiles was so full of merchants that foreigners found it difficult to worship. And worship was the main purpose for visiting the temple. It was the one place that Gentiles could come and pray but there was no atmosphere nor room for prayer. They turned worshipers into attenders and the place of worship into a place of worldliness. No wonder Jesus was angry!
Jesus was angry at the dishonest, greedy, practices of the money changers and merchants, and He particularly disliked their displacement of worship in the temple grounds. They were making a mockery of God’s house of worship.
[John records this first clearing or cleansing of the temple. A second clearing occurred at the end of Jesus’ ministry about three years later and that event is recorded in Matthew 21:12-17; Mark l1:12 -19; Luke 19:45-48.]