As we continue our way through John 2 there are two things I want you to keep in mind. First, while Matthew, Mark, and Luke set out to provide a written record, John writes with a particular intent. In John 20:30 he pens, “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Always keep in mind John’s Gospel intends to provoke a decision from the reader. It’s a Gospel that demands a verdict from the audience - a response. John isn’t all that interested in providing a chronological record of Jesus’ life in order to appeal to a specific audience… Instead, he presents a particular narrative aimed at getting the reader to “believe” or place their complete faith and confidence in two important truths concerning Jesus:
(1) John wants you to believe that “Jesus is the Christ” (Messiah), the long-awaited Savior of the world, and (2) “that Jesus is the Son of God” - God made flesh, God incarnate, the God-man! Note: Absolutely everything John includes in his Gospel narrative concerning Jesus and His ministry intends to accomplish these two very specific aims.
The second thing I want you to keep in mind as we get to John 2:12 is the contextual flow of this chapter. As we saw last Sunday, in the first 11 verses we’re provided this amazing story of Jesus transforming water into wine. Not only is the miracle unique as Jesus’ first, but as the “beginning of signs” the symbolism is not only obvious but very intentional.
As we discussed there was so much more behind the events of this wedding in Cana than the plain reading suggests. Because of sin the wedding party (a picture of the world) was in desperate parol. The joy (represented by the wine) offered by this world had run out.
Not only could no man apart from Jesus provide a remedy to this fundamental problem, but the story illustrated the ineffectiveness of religion as well. Six pots of stone present at this wedding celebration sat empty. Though the Law incorporated water for a person’s outward purification, it was never used to address man’s internal thirst. These stone pots only existed to provide water aimed at the temporary cleansing of the outward man.
The entire purpose behind John’s inclusion of this first miracle was to illustrate that Jesus had come to offer something radically different than religion to a thirsty world lacking joy. While religion had left the world outwardly clean but inwardly thirsty, not so with Jesus!
Though religion is all about what we do and refrain from doing to clean ourselves up before God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is instead more focused on what He supernaturally transforms us into. Jesus offers a drink from living water that turns into wine!
And it’s this very contrast (the ineffectiveness of religion - what man does to cleanse himself before God, verses the effectiveness of Jesus - what He does to transform man before God) that John will now continue to build upon thematically through the next chapter and a half.
John 2:12-14, “After this Jesus went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days. Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.”
As we examine the Gospel of John it’s important to note that he will specifically reference three different “Passover” celebrations. The first is obviously presented here in John 2 when Jesus goes “up to Jerusalem” to celebrate with “His mother, brothers, and disciples.”
The second is mentioned in John 6:4, but it doesn’t seem Jesus travels to Jerusalem for the feast. And the third and final Passover, which results in Jesus’ death, is mentioned first in John 11 and will end up dominating the last several chapters for the Gospel.
The reason this is important is that these three “Passovers” provide for us a specific timeframe for John’s narrative and more importantly Jesus’ ministry. Contrary to those who say Jesus had a three year ministry, John’s Gospel actually establishes a two-year timeline.
Consider this scene as “Jesus went up to Jerusalem!” Because Passover represented God’s supernatural deliverance of the Hebrew people from their Egyptian bondage, it was one of the main feasts Jewish people from all over the world would pilgrimage to the holy city to celebrate. Now some 2000 years later, under Roman occupation, there is no question the people longed for God to once again raise up a deliverer like Moses.
Literally (and this is not an exaggeration), about a million people from this densely populated region surrounding the Sea of Galilee (which included the city of Capernaum) would undertake the journey south along the Jordan River Valley before heading “up to Jerusalem!”
As the people made this difficult trek from the Jordan though the Judean wilderness the atmosphere was festive and the mood celebratory. As the kids would say - the scene was lit!
Imagine this incredible expanse of people extending as far as the eye could see filled with national pride and clear anticipation. They’re chanting and signing. It’s joyous! It would be like an Atlanta United soccer crowd making their way down Peachtree - times a thousand!
Multiple generations of the same family walked together: Parents with their children, kids hand in hand with their grandparents, cousins with one another, neighbors along side of neighbors, friends and acquaintances alike, the whole community headed to Jerusalem together with the Hallel Psalms (113-118) providing the sound-track for the journey.
The excitement and anticipation was palpable and the closer you got to Jerusalem the more the air filled with wonder. The people were headed to the Temple to worship God! They were coming to offer their yearly sacrifice to atone for sin. Aside from the religious underpinning, many wondered… Could this be the year the Messiah would finally be revealed to Israel?
Though the city of Jerusalem itself was undeniably underwhelming, it is worth pointing out Herod’s Temple was quite an incredible sight to behold. According to historical records the Temple was completely overlaid with gold. Beyond this, because the Temple Mount was above the city sitting upon the pinnacle of Mount Moriah, historians record that the structure could be seen from up to ten miles away glistening in the noonday sun.
Imagine the moment Jesus and this mob of pilgrims caught that first twinkle! There she was - the Temple, the house of God, the seat of religion, the source of pride, their connecting point with their past, a portal to heaven! The closer the people got the more excited they became!
Though the Temple wasn’t very large, Herod the Great had constructed a large complex encompassing approximately 35 acres of prime real-estate. As Jesus and the crowds of pilgrims approached they would have specifically entered from the east via the outer Court of the Gentiles - which included an area of about 18 acres surrounding the Temple itself.
Consider, upon entering the Temple, what Jesus would have seen? (And don’t forget this was the most holy place in all of Judaism - the very meeting place between God and man.) John tells us that as Jesus entered the Temple “He found (literally “came upon”) those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.”
Sadly, a place designed for reverence and weighty spiritual matters had become a place for “doing business.” Aside from people buying and selling “oxen and sheep and doves” they would use for their sacrifices, the scene was further tainted by these “money changers.” None of this was part of God’s design for the Temple and religion had become big business.
Not to go on a tangent, but I do want to make one side observation. It’s a terrible thing when a church focuses more on “money” and “business” than facilitating people’s relationship with Jesus. It’s a sad inditement that many of today’s largest church models are proudly based upon savvy business where the bottom line is relegated to numbers and money.
Let me give you three terrible consequences when church and business blend together: (1) It convolutes God’s purpose for the church. (2) It warps the functionality of a church making it more difficult for people to encounter Jesus. (3) It’s a poor witness to the world around us.
Jesus entered the Temple and this is what “He found!” As we’re going to see in a minute, He wasn’t very pleased and acted accordingly! I know I speak for the other Elders when I say our bottom line will always be centered on people and ministry way more than business and money. Our focus is on building the Kingdom of God than our own kingdom on this earth.
Before I explain how this place of worship had become a booming business, let me take a quick moment and explain the pivotal players behind the religious racket Jesus found. According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus, though Annas had served as High Priest from 6-15 AD, for many reasons the Romans had decided to remove him from office.
And yet, while he’d been stripped of his official capacity, Annas still remained in the game as the main power-broker via the proxy influence of his five very corrupt sons. In actuality his son-in-law Caiaphas had been given the official title of High Priest, but possessed no real authority. Josephus said he earned approximately 3 million a year just as the figure-head.
Not only was the Temple and its “business” exclusively controlled by this one dominate family, but the scheme they’d cooked up to rip off the people had enabled them to amass not only incredible wealth but immense political power. Everything about this was shady! Once again many churches turn into businesses for the exact same reasons - power and greed.
Here’s how the racket worked: It was required that during Passover every family was to offer a spotless sacrifice to atone for sin. If you weren’t able to bring your own sacrifice because of the journey, one could be purchased from the priests at the Temple.
If you did bring your own sacrifice, the animal would have to first undergo an inspected by a priest to be determined if it was adequate. As you can imagine, because the priest wanted you to purchase one of their animals at a premium price, they were all to motivated to find some type of disqualifying blemish. More often than not this is what resulted!
Sadly, since most people had to purchase their offering at the Temple because it was the only way to insure you’d end up with a spotless sacrifice, the priests were able to jack up the rate effectively gouging people coming to worship God and offer an atonement for sin. Always remember the racket of religion will never allow you to ever be good enough!
But it get’s worse than that… Since God specifically forbid any “graven images” in the Levitical Law, Roman currency wasn’t accepted on the Temple Mount because the coinage contained the image of Caesar. This meant a person not only had to purchase a sacrifice from the priests, but they were also required to exchange their local currency for a special Temple coin. Again this allowed for exorbitant exchange rates further screwing the people.
As Jesus enters the Temple this is the racket that greets Him. A place of worship had not only become a place of business, but the business specifically took advantage of the people. What should have been a reverent and contemplative experience (offering a sacrifice for sin) had been turned into a trying and difficult process by men greedy for personal gain.
John 2:15-17, “When Jesus had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written (Psalm 69:9), ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’”
In response to what He witnesses, John tells us “Jesus made a whip of cords.” The idea is that Jesus didn't immediately react to the things He was seeing in the Temple. Instead, Jesus took the necessary time to act with both careful deliberation and thoughtful consideration. He didn’t fly off the rails in a fit of anger. He didn’t see red. Jesus was calm, cool, and collected.
I imagine Jesus (who no doubt is outraged by what’s occurring) takes a deep breath and proceeds to walk around collecting some materials. After getting what He needs, He finds a place to sit and begins to carefully weave together strands of leather to form a “whip!”
In the KJV we read that Jesus actually “made a scourge of small cords” similar to the device used by the Romans in scourgings. The whole time Jesus is weaving together these cords to make this whip He’s internally stewing by what’s taking place in His “Father’s house!”
As the scene plays out in my mind I can see Jesus putting the finishing touches on this scourge. Once completed He tightens it up to make sure it would be durable. Jesus even gives it a little test. Then He rises to His feet, looks around, and in a flash jumps into action!
Jesus first physically “drives out” from the Temple those who were selling the “sheep and the oxen” along with their livestock. Once this task is completed, John tells us Jesus then “poured out the changers’ money” before “overturning their tables!” He’s relentless!
What a contrast to the many misconceptions people have of Jesus being an anemic, scrawny, feminine man! Jesus is not passive. He’s aggressive. He’s not even-kill, but deeply passionate. Jesus isn’t a push-over. He’s a go-getter. He’s not weak. He’s tenacious!
Jesus isn’t playing peace-maker. He’s made a whip, rolled up His sleeves, and is picking a fight! He’s willing to act to right a wrong. He advocates for those being taken advantage of. Jesus was a man’s man. People saw Him as a revolutionary. He was a man men followed!
Please understand the intensity established in the Greek language is really strong. This word translated “to drive out” means to violently expel a person. There’s no initial conversation. Jesus is acting with premeditation and He’s using a weapon to commit an act of violence! Gandhi would be appalled. In this moment Jesus is more Malcom X than MLK!
Aside from this, the Greek word we translate as “overturned” describes the act of turning over soil with a plough. Jesus did more than turn over the tables. He destroyed them! When John says He “poured out the money” it can literally mean the money gushed forth. Jesus is active and He’s angry, but all the while He’s measured and in complete control! Ed Taylor makes this observation, “This wasn’t an outburst of wrath, but righteous indignation.”
Really imagine this scene… It’s Passover. The people are excited. There is an anticipation in the air. The Romans are on guard. The Temple itself is packed full of pilgrims. Children are running around. Animals are everywhere. Money is changing hands. And then, out of nowhere, Jesus flies off the top rope brandishing a homemade whip! He goes on the attack!
An obvious commotion ensues. Initially no one knows what’s going on, but then people begin to scurry. The racketeers first dive for cover. Then they start scrambling to keep up with the livestock Jesus is driving from the building. The moneychangers are aghast as Jesus kicks over and smashes their tables scattering their money everywhere. All the while He’s crying out “take these things away… do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
Understandably, people are a bit taken back at first. Though everyone hated the racket and the fact the process to offer a sacrifice had become so cumbersome, it was what it was. What could be done and who’d dare challenge the Temple Cartel? Sure, I’m taking a little license in how I read the story, but don’t you find it odd no one attempts to stop Jesus?
Personally, I believe the reason this is the case is that, after the initial shock subsided, the people cheered Jesus on! Jesus was defending them! He was boldly taking on the establishment. He was attacking corruption head on. No love was lost when the multitude saw Jesus go after these underhanded moneychangers. “About time!” they all reasoned.
I can’t say this for sure, but behind the kick drum, screeching electric guitar, and slap of the bass I imagine John was whispering, “Raise up your ear, I’ll drop the style and clear. It’s the beats and the lyrics they fear! The rage is relentless. We need a movement with a quickness. You are the witness of change and to counteract… We gotta take the power back!”
With this in mind, the inaction of the establishment also makes sense. Once it was evident Jesus had the support of the mob, what could these charlatans do to stop Him? The people were with Him and in many ways Jesus held the moral high ground. They knew they risked a riot if they fought back. Beyond all of this, I’m sure the Romans found a measure of delight knowing Annas was taking a loss. Why would they intervene to save him money?
After cleansing the Temple of it’s defilement and presumably once things settled down and a calm returned to the scene, John tells us the people want Jesus to explain Himself.
John 2:18-25, “So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’
But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”
Notice in response to what Jesus has just done the people didn’t ask why! They knew why. The system was corrupt. It was wrong. Jesus’ actions had been completely justified. Instead of a reason, the people ask upon what authority Jesus was doing these things. “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” They ask, “What are you telling us?”
Look at Jesus’ response… He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” Not only does John tell us in the moment His audience was confused thinking Jesus was referring to the physical Temple, but he adds that it wasn’t until after the resurrection that the disciples understood “Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body!”
As I mentioned in our introduction don’t forget the context for this event of Jesus clearing out the Temple is the miracle of transforming water into wine. Not only did Jesus’ miracle contrast religions failure to address man’s internal thirst, but the religious system had become more of a hindrance than a help. Beyond ineffective, religion was detrimental.
People were coming to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to God for sin. And yet, aside from the sacrifice itself only providing a temporary atonement, the process had become completely warped by man’s involvement. An entire process instituted by God for it’s deep symbolic meaning to occur on Passover had been hijacked. This is why Jesus was so upset!
The feast of Passover was to be a celebration of God’s deliverance of man from the bondage of sin. This act of sacrificing an innocent, spotless lamb to temporarily atone for sin intended to foreshadow the ultimate day when God would offer a permanent sacrifice.
In clearing out the Temple Jesus was in effect shutting down shop. Man no longer needed to come to a physical location (a Temple) to encounter the Living God, because He was God come in human flesh. It’s what Jesus means when He refers to Himself as a “temple.” From that point forward man could come before God by coming to Jesus.
Additionally, man no longer needed to offer a temporary sacrifice. As the “Lamb of God” Jesus came to be offered once and for all for the sins of the world. His body would be “destroyed,” but His resurrection would follow… “In three days I will raise it up!” Even at the beginning of His ministry Jesus was keenly aware of His future destiny!
There are some scholars who say John is recording at the beginning of his Gospel an event the other authors place at the end of theirs. It’s true both Matthew, Mark, and Luke record an ALMOST identical moment when Jesus clears out the Temple, but they place it during His week of Passion - the final Passover that would result in Jesus’ crucifixion.
And while there are undoubtedly major similarities, I don’t believe the events are the same. Not only is the context and a few of the details different in John 2, but the repetition of the event itself is deeply significant. Consider… Jesus transforms water into wine, begins His ministry, and heads to Jerusalem for Passover only to clear out the Temple.
Jesus then specifically skips the next Passover (John 6:4) only to come back to Jerusalem for Passover again at the end of His ministry and find nothing to have changed. Jesus again clears out the Temple before offering Himself for the sins of the world.
In a sense Jesus began His ministry declaring religion to be of no use and then He ends His ministry with the same declaration. Friend, if you hate religion because of the obvious corruption - men enriching themselves off the sacrifices of others - the racket of never measuring up - the business and money… Jesus is right there with you. That said… Never make the mistake of allowing religion to taint your perspective of Jesus!
One more final thought before we wrap things up… In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, who you have from God, and you are not your own?” One of the most obvious applications of this story is the simple reality that Jesus cares what happens in His Temple and will act accordingly. May you consider this morning… Are there things Jesus wants to overturn and drive out of you?
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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