Summary: As we see Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem, we learn that equally he is concerned to deal with the sin in our hearts
We have read of that dramatic moment in the Gospel of John when Jesus first cleansed the temple. Having called his disciples to a more permanent relationship with himself, he left with them for Jerusalem to celebrate the first Passover as the acknowledged Messiah, the Promised One to come.
Jesus had been in Jerusalem many times during the years before his public ministry began. He had been to the temple and had seen many of the sights which he saw on this occasion, but he had taken no action in response. Now, however, he is going to Jerusalem as the Messiah, and he will fulfill Malachi’s prophecy about the Messiah, "The Lord whom you see shall suddenly come to his temple," (Malachi 3:1b), ... "and he will purify the sons of Levi," (3:3b). This is the background for what our Lord did when he arrived in Jerusalem.
John tells us what that action was.
In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers, and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade." (John 2:14-16)
Jesus is clearly angry at what he found in the temple. He takes drastic action to cleanse it, not only of trafficking in money-changing and selling animals, but also of the extortion and racketeering that went along with it.
Here we have an account of violent action and of evident anger on the part of Jesus at the beginning.
Note that John says this occurred at a Passover feast. Doubtless he wants to remind us that at the Passover, every Jewish household spent the day before the feast meticulously going through their house seeking out any kind of yeast or substance that could cause fermentation and cleansing every such manifestation from their home. Let there be no confusion: God never confuses us in his Word, and leaven ALWAYS signifies what is sin; what is unclean before a holy God.
Jesus was angry at the extortion and racketeering that was going on. Once a year, every Jewish male had to go to the temple and pay a temple tax. There was no escape; every male Jew was required to pay a half-shekel tax at the Passover season. Further, that tax could not be paid in Roman or Greek coin but had to be paid in a special temple coin. So it was necessary to change the Roman or Greek coins that were commonly employed into this special temple tax. That in itself was fine; money-changers were required for that. Having them available for the people was a convenience that was right and proper. But what was wrong was that there was an exorbitant price being extorted for making this exchange, so that sometimes almost as much as half of the value of the money being exchanged was paid to the money-changers for their service. The temple was making enormous revenues from this practice.
Furthermore, a sacrifice offered at the Passover season had to be made with an animal without blemish or imperfection. This meant that the only animals that could be offered were those which were bought from the temple herd that was kept in an open courtyard in the court of the Gentiles. These animals had already been approved by the priests. But again, a tremendously inflated price was demanded for those animals. In fact, a bird could be brought outside the temple for the equivalent of 15 pence of our money, but the same bird, bought within the temple from the authorized purveyors of animals, would cost as high as £15! This barefaced extortion, this demand for money from even the poorest of the poor was what aroused the flaming anger of the Lord Jesus Christ
Do not diminish or minimize the anger and the violence which Jesus manifested at this time. This is a different Jesus to the popular ‘Gentle Jesus meek and mild’ But this action clearly indicates that our Lord was angry. He drove these people out of the temple. He made the point, which was clearly: do not turn a place which is devoted to the worship of God and the cleansing of people, into a flea market. The word John employs is, literally, "emporium," a place where people are concerned about making a fast buck. The temple rather was the place where human values were to be considered supreme.
The climax of his action comes in what the disciples learned from it. Three lessons burned themselves unforgettably into the disciples’ minds as they watched our Lord. The first was an immediate impression, Verse 17.