Summary: What happens when religion becomes a business?
My Father’s House is not an Emporium: An Exposition of John 2:13-25
Jesus had just finished His first sign which was the turning of water into wine. This He had done in response to His mother’s request. When we sntudied the passage, we had to deal with the cryptic statement: “My time has not yet come.” We saw that in Chapter 19 at the cross, Jesus again addressed His mother as “woman.” This says that Jesus was telling the world that He was to fulfill the will of His heavenly Father and not His mother. After the miracle, Jesus went home and stayed with His mother, his brethren and his disciples.
This passage is introduced with the phrase: “The Passover, the feast of the Jews was near.” John mentions several feasts of the Jews in the Gospel, and He mentions the Passover three times. This implies that the ministry of Jesus extended for over two years to cover these three Passovers. The mention of the cleansing of the Temple immediately brings up a hard to answer question. How many Temple cleansings were there, one or two? There is a Temple cleansing in the other gospels, but it happens in the last week of Jesus’ life. If we treat John’s account as the next event chronologically, this event happens at the very beginning of His ministry.
If there was only one cleansing, why does John have the account here. If John has located this here other than there were two cleansings, it would have had to have been so deliberately. John’s gospel is full of time markers, but John’s sense of time does not strictly seem to be linear. We have already noticed how John uses the time term “Hour.” He uses it to say that it was the “tenth hour” or four o’clock in the afternoon in a literal sense. But he also uses the same “hour” in “my hour has not yet come” referring to the time Jesus would be crucified. John has used the time markers “on the next day” and “on the third day.” He uses the term “the feast of the Jews” as another marker of time. We can never be sure if time markers are historical, figurative or both. Context does help us in some cases, but I think John likes to keep us in suspense. He does this in recording Jesus’s dialog with Nicodemus about being “born again.” This term also means “born from above.” He uses a play on words with the Greek word “pneuma” to refer to “wind” and “Spirit.” In John, Jesus says “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Here the Greek “Hupso” can mean “exalt” or “crucify.” These examples show that we are always a little disoriented by John. John uses the idea of disorientation in Revelation as well. In chapter 4, the heavenly throne is bedazzled by color, brightness and sounds. When John sees the vision of Jesus in chapter 2 of Revelation, he falls out as dead. John deliberately breaks the language using the preposition “apo” with the genitive. In other words, when man meets God, everything becomes disoriented, including time.
The study of time in John would be a major work in its own right. Let it be sufficient here to say that John’s timing of this event is deliberate, possibly, but not necessarily chronological. So perhaps it might be profitable to see what John is saying here. We had just seen His first sign. If this cleansing chronologically occurred at the end of Jesus’ ministry, then Jesus’ statement in this passage of “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” makes more sense as Jesus was accused at His trial that He was going to destroy the temple. This was Jesus’s answer for a sign. Jesus meant by this that if they killed Him, on the third day He would rise from the dead. The cross then serves as the last sign. Then John would be juxtaposing Jesus’s first sign at Cana with His last and final sign. These points could be made without necessarily saying that there was only one cleansing, however.
Getting back to the text, it says that when Jesus went up to the Temple, He was disturbed by merchants conducting their business in the Temple area. The Temple had an outer court and several inner courts. The Gentiles were only allowed into the outer area of the Temple. This is where the merchants selling oxen and doves were. Also the money exchangers were there, exchanging Gentile money for holy money that was needed to pay the Temple tax, for which the moneychangers received a profit. This is where the Gentiles had to pray, in the busy and noisy market. Women could go into the next court where the treasury was. Jewish men could go into the next court. At the end of the Temple was what was called the “naos” or “holy place.” The priests went here in their daily service. The last part of the shrine was “the “Most Holy Place” which was forbidden to all except the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. There in the darkness was the symbolic presence of God. In saying “symbolic” I am not saying that it wasn’t the real presence of Yahweh, but Yahweh is omnipresent and not restricted to the “Holy of Holies.”