Bible Studies, The Gospels

The First Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:12-22)

            What do you think of when you think of Jesus?  Do you think of a Jesus that is blonde and looks like he would fit right in at a Woodstock Festival?

Do you think of a Jesus that glows in the dark?

Or a Jesus that is so tender that you cannot imagine why anyone would want to kill him?

Or what about a black Jesus ?

Or Jesus your best friend?

Or what about this guy?

We all have a misconception of what Jesus looks like, mainly because it would be idolatry to worship a picture of Jesus rather than who Jesus is and what he has done for us.  Therefore, by God’s grace there are not paintings of Jesus that are accurate, just western culture’s idea of him.  Most of which are grossly wrong.  For one, Jesus was a Jew so he would not look like the typical western white person.  He lived in the Middle East, but not only does he live in the Middle East he grew up as a carpenter’s son.  Which meant that he grew up in a working family that would have been out in the sun all day.  So Jesus would have had dark leathery skin and forearms that would bear witness to his trade.

This is one of the reasons that I love this passage because it debunks so many misconceptions of Jesus and points us right away to what he came to do.  It is hard for us to imagine that the moneychangers and the Jewish leaders would have fled from a guy that looked like any of the pictures that we saw earlier.

First of all, this passage is confusing because it is contrary to the weak Jesus that so many of us grow up understanding.  However, we should be careful not to go off on the other end and think that Jesus is a short-tempered maniac either.  In this passage, we see that Jesus’ physical action was forceful, but not cruel; one does not easily drive out cattle and sheep without a whip of cords.  Still, his action could not have generated a riotous uproar, or there would have been swift action from the Roman troops.

So what caused this usual cool headed Jesus to become so zealous about the temple courts?  This is because instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep.  Instead of brokenness and repentance, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there is noisy commerce.  This act was a denunciation of worship that was not pure.

What should we be zealous about?  What should stir our hearts to action and elimination of things that are distracting us from pure worship?  Should we be zealous about this church building?  Would Jesus come in and clean out this church building?  I would argue no, and not because there is nothing in this building that distracts our worship, but because the church building is no longer the temple.  God’s presence is no longer in a building.

Where is God’s presence?  God’s presence for the believer is the body.  All those in Christ now have the Holy Spirit that dwells in you.  Therefore, God cares more about what is in your heart than, what is in the church building.  John Calvin says that our hearts are an idol factory.  We are constantly producing things in our heart to worship.  This is because God created a God shaped hole in all our hearts that only he can fulfill.  However, we sometimes try to force a square peg into a round whole to try to satisfy this desire.  Whether it be sports, food, a member of the opposite sex, or even your religion.  We all have to be zealous to keep those idols out of our hearts.

That is what Jesus would want us to be zealous about today, he would want us to be zealous of what we are taking in through our mouths, he would want us to be zealous of what we are taking in with our eyes, he would want us to be zealous about what we are taking in with our ears.  Because what comes out our mouths is a result of what we are putting in our bodies.  And Christ wants to be your first love that is always on your tongue, and bringing him glory and honor.

Now in verses 18-22 we see something out of the ordinary.  The temple authorities come up and question Jesus about what authority he has in doing what he had just done.  Now that is not what is strange in this passage since they had all the authority to do so, but what is strange is what they ask him.  They ask for a miraculous sign to prove his authority.  This is strange for two reasons.  First, they display no reflection or self-examination over whether Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and related charges were foundationally just.  (Carson, 1991)

This shows that they are not concerned with pure worship and right approach to God; they are more concerned with authority.  Second, it shows that if the authorities had been convinced that Jesus was merely some petty hooligan, or that he was emotionally unstable, they would have eliminated him immediately.  Therefore, the fact that they requested a miraculous sign demonstrates they at least had a suspicion that they were dealing with a heaven-sent prophet.  (Carson, 1991)

A sign that would satisfy them, presumably some sort of miraculous display performed on demand, would have signaled the domestication of God.  That sort of God does powerful stunts to maintain allegiance, and that kind of allegiance is not worth having.  Indeed, if the authorities had eyes to see, the cleansing of the temple was already a sign they should have thought through and deciphered in terms of Old Testament Scripture.  (Carson, 1991)

Jesus’ puzzling response was understood neither by the temple authorities or his disciples.  On the face of it, Jesus was inviting the authorities to destroy the temple, and was promising to raise it again within three days of its destruction.  At the literal level, they were highly unlikely to call his bluff.  They were nevertheless blocked, since he was offering them a powerful miraculous sign to justify his authority for cleansing the temple.  Indeed, it was a marvelously appropriate sign: anyone who could restore the temple within three days of its complete destruction must be judged to have the authority to regulate its practices.  (Carson, 1991)

In verse 21, we get an explanation of what Jesus really meant.  Explanations that clear away misunderstandings are common in the Gospel of John.  John explains that what Jesus was really referring to was his own body, that body in which the Word became flesh.  The Father and the incarnate Son enjoy unique mutual indwelling.  Therefore it is the human body of Jesus that uniquely manifests the Father, and becomes the focal point of the manifestation of God to man the living dwelling of God on earth, the fulfillment of all the temple meant, and the center of all true worship.  In this temple, the ultimate sacrifice would take place; within three days of death and burial, Jesus Christ, the true temple, would rise from the dead.  (Carson, 1991)

This is clear to us that Christ’s mission was to come and to die for our sins.  That was plan A from the beginning of time.  That was the point of the Old Testament, the Old Testament was to point us to Christ and reveal to us what he was going to fulfill.  That is why the Old Testament is so important to us.  Because without the fulfillment of the Old Testament we have no way of testing if the claims of Jesus is true or not.  If it was not for the Old Testament we would not have anything to separate him from any other religious leader ever to live.

To best understand this passage you would have to have a good understanding of the temple in the Old Testament.  The temple was built to be the house of God it was were the presence of God was to manifest itself.  It is where the priests would go and make sacrifices.   Christ came to fulfill all those laws and rituals that pertained to the temple.  Christ came to the earth to be the perfect and final sacrifice.  We no longer have to make sacrifices for our sins because Christ came died for them for us.  We no longer have to make a journey to Jerusalem because since Christ died for our sins and rose again He has sent the Holy Spirit to reside in us until his return.


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