13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
(John 2:13-25 NIV)
John moves from Jesus’ first miracle at Cana to Jesus’ first controversy in Jerusalem.
After the Cana wedding, Jesus went with His family to Capernaum and spent a few days with them. Jesus then made the long trek from Capernaum to Jerusalem for Passover. This trek was between three and four days’ walk – a hot, dusty journey.
As Jesus goes up to the temple to worship, He discovers that the merchants had set up their tables and were doing business inside the outer temple court. In the past, merchants set up their tables outside the temple, either in the marketplace or closer to the Mount of Olives. Jesus was not objecting to the merchants providing their services to the worshippers. Jesus was, however, objecting to them setting up their marketplace inside the temple grounds.
Note that this first cleansing of the temple was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and was separate from the second cleansing that Matthew recorded in Matthew chapter 21. The Matthew passage is at the end of Jesus’ ministry, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and before His arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. These two temple cleansings provide a set of “bookends” to Jesus’ ministry.
It’s interesting to note that the Jewish leaders did not object to Jesus driving out the merchants – they only wanted to know who told Him He could do so. Jesus was acting on His authority as God, but they didn’t know that or recognize Him as Messiah.
John throws in one of his parenthetical asides to help us see the “story behind the story” – what was going on in the disciples’ minds as Jesus was cleansing the temple. John tells us that Jesus’ disciples recalled Psalm 69:9 as the reason Jesus was cleansing the temple.
When the Jewish leaders questioned Jesus’ authority to cleanse the temple, Jesus answered prophetically about what would happen three years later when the Jewish leaders would have Jesus crucified. Of course, the Jewish leaders took Jesus’ words literally, not prophetically, and scoffed at what they thought He meant. Again, John provides the vantage point of writing his Gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection and provides the perspective of realizing what Jesus meant when He said He would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days.
In verses 23-25, John provides additional insight into Jesus’ heart and mindset. John tells us that Jesus gains many followers through His actions, but that is not Jesus’ motivation. Jesus’ actions were not a publicity stunt to gain a following – Jesus is careful not to drink the “kool aid” of His popularity and success in ministry.
Do we have that same burning desire to see God glorified? Or do we only go along with the flow, taking whatever comes our way, allowing the “merchants” to set up shop in our “temple” (either physically in our homes, businesses, or churches, or spiritually in our hearts)?
C.S. Lewis said:
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
(from The Weight of Glory)
May we focus on Christ today, not on humanity for our approval. And may the zeal of the Lord be our heart’s cry as it was for Jesus.