Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel records the wedding in Galilee where Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine, and then it says, in John 2:11-12. “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. 12. After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.”
From Capernaum He traveled to Jerusalem and verses 13 through 22 record Jesus’ first visit during His earthly ministry there.
Luke chapter 2 tells about a much earlier visit to Jerusalem. His parents had traveled from Nazareth, His boyhood home, to Jerusalem for the Passover. He was 12 years old at the time and at that age was allowed to enter the temple and even enter into the religious discussions. On their way home from the Passover Feast, His parents found He was not in the caravan with them and they returned to Jerusalem. Luke 2:46. “ Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions.”
On this later visit to Jerusalem for the Passover, He stirred up a lot of antagonism among the religious rulers of the Jews when He cleansed the temple by rounding up the oxen and sheep being sold in the courtyard and drove them out.
John 2:13-22. “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15. When He 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. 16. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!” 17. Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (Psalm 69:9) 18. So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” 19. Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20. Then the Jews said, “It has taken 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. 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.”
John’s gospel is the only gospel that records this trip to Jerusalem and the things that took place there. His gospel focuses in particular on events in Jesus' life that took place in Jerusalem, and especially at the Passover feasts.
The other three gospels record Jesus' cleansing of the temple on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It is recorded in Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19, but only John recorded this first cleansing of the temple. It came at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and the second cleansing came in the last week of His life.
John also recorded that Jesus went up to Jerusalem again, for three separate Passover celebrations. This one was the first Passover after Jesus began His public ministry. As a Jew who obeyed the Mosaic Law as it is given in Deuteronomy 16, He undoubtedly attended the Passover yearly from the time He was twelve years old, but this would be His first during His public ministry.
John described the Passover as "the Passover of the Jews.” In the Old Testament it is described as the Passover of the Lord, but it is always described as the Passover of the Jews in the New Testament. The feast of the tabernacles is also described that way in the New Testament. The Jews had turned away from the Lord and the keeping of these feasts had become just a formality so the Lord no longer acknowledged them as His feasts.
There is a warning here for the believer of a danger that we are all exposed to. The danger is in putting outward observances in a place above our spiritual life.
Verses 14-16. “And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. 15. When He 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. 16. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!”
When He reached the temple on this occasion, He saw the people buying and selling animals and birds to be used for sacrifices. They were, in effect, conducting a business for financial profit right in the temple courtyard. Since these were live animals, this undoubtedly was in the outer Court of the Gentiles, not the temple building itself.
This custom started innocently enough. God allowed the selling of sacrificial animals and exchanging various types of money for temple coins as a convenience for worshippers who came from a great distance for the Passover. By Jesus' day this practice had become a major business for the priests and had replaced spiritual worship in the courtyard during the Passover season. Tradition has it that the main concessionaires were the sons in law of the High Priest. They commercialized the ordinances of God for personal gain which was an abomination in God’s sight.
When Jesus entered the temple, He took action both verbally and physically. He claimed that God was His Father (verse 16) and we know that He was acting in the will of God.
I believe Jesus had the right to be angry at how God’s dwelling place, the place where He met the high priest, was being misused.
These people didn’t understand that Satan was behind the desecration of the temple and that Jesus was God in the flesh. Isn’t it a shame that we feel we have to understand everything about the things God has told us before we will trust Him? Satan blinds us to the blessings of God when we don’t simply take God at His word and believe what He says.
Driving out the livestock evidently didn’t constitute a threat to the peace in the temple area. Roman soldiers from a nearby barracks could have easily intervened if need be.
There’s no indication that anyone was injured. Jesus’ only weapon was the whip. He used it to drive out the animals because the Levites who were in charge of the safety and purity of the temple weren’t honoring their charge.
The temple was intended for God's glory and Jesus' actions gave the disciples a glimpse of His zeal for the proper use of the temple.
The Old Testament predicted, in Malachi 3:1-3, that Messiah would come and purify the Levites in the temple. Those who knew the scriptures and observed Jesus' actions may have recalled that prophecy and wondered if Jesus might be the Messiah. However, His actions here didn’t fulfill those prophecies. He will fulfill them just before His millennial reign begins. Jesus will return to the temple that will be standing in Jerusalem at that time, and He will purify the Levites serving there in preparation for His messianic reign.
Verse 17. “Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
David wrote, in Psalm 69:9. “Zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” In that Psalm, David wrote that his zeal for the building of the first temple had dominated his thoughts and actions and that others had reproached, or criticized, him for it. John used that verse from the past as a prophecy concerning David's Greater Son, so the scripture is appropriate for David's statement about himself, and at the same time it applies to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Throughout his gospel, John portrays Jesus as the Messiah. All of Jesus’ actions here display a special relationship with God. They are a part of His mission to show us what God is like. In John 14:8-9, “Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father;”
John doesn’t quote the Old Testament as often as some other New Testament writers, but the Old Testament is very evident in his gospel. John does use excerpts from it to point out how God works out His purposes through His Son, Jesus Christ.
When Jesus cleansed the temple, He served notice on the hypocritical religious leaders that God would not always tolerate their disobedience to Him, and this ultimately led to His death on the cross. This fulfilled the portion of scripture that reads “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
Verse 18. “So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?”
They ignored, for the present at least, that He claimed to be the Son of God. They were upset about where He got His authority to cleanse the temple. The high priest evidently felt He was usurping his authority. One of the Jews present asked Jesus to perform some miraculous sign to indicate that He had divine authority for His actions.
The Jewish leaders didn’t deal with the question of whether or not Jesus was right in His criticism in verse 16. They only asked where He got His authority.
Verse 19. “Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
He was giving them a sign, but not the kind they wanted. They wanted an immediate demonstration of His authority. Jesus answered them with the promise of a miracle that would vindicate His authority after He died.
His answer totally confused them. These were the religious leaders of Israel who had the responsibility of studying and understanding the Old Testament Scriptures. Had they understood Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, they would have understood His answer. In verse 4 of this chapter He said “My time is not yet come.” He was acting under the Father's authority, and the time was not yet right for a dramatic sign.
The Jews had already demonstrated that they had no real interest in justice; they wanted to discredit Jesus. I don’t believe they really wanted a sign. My Dad used to say “there are none so blind as those who don’t want to see.” I don’t believe they would have acknowledged who Jesus was even if He had performed a dozen miracles for them.
Verse 20. “Then the Jews said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
The temple had been under construction for 46 years at that time. It was not completed until A.D. 63. Herod the Great had started to build it many years before Jesus was born and it wasn’t finished until long after Jesus’ death.
Verse 21. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” The Jews thought that Jesus was offering to rebuild the temple in three days if they would tear it down. He didn’t explain that He was saying, “destroy the temple of my body, and I will raise it up in three days.” He was answering them in the way He often did in the parables. His intent was to hide a revelation from the unbelieving but reveal it to believers.
Later on, at His trial before the Sanhedrin, they used Jesus' words about destroying the temple as a charge against Him. They were following in the footsteps of their father, Satan, the father of all liars, and misquoted Him. Jesus had said, “You destroy the temple,” not, “I will destroy the temple.” They still didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking of His body.
There’s a deeper thought here. By referring to the destruction of His body, Jesus was also implying that the old temple and its service had served its purpose. He had come to establish a new way of worship.
Even Jesus' disciples didn’t understand what He meant until after His resurrection when the Holy Spirit brought a Scripture to their minds and they understood the Old Testament prophecy concerning the Messiah's resurrection. Psalm 16:10. “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”
There’s another interesting thought brought to mind here.
Jesus' body was a temple in a unique sense. John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
His body was also indwelt by the Father. John 14:10-11. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.”
He was indwelt by the Holy Spirit also. John 1:32-33. “And John bore witness, saying, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”
It was unique in the truest form; it was the only human body to tread this earth that made known the Heavenly Father. God manifested Himself on earth through Jesus. He had done this previously, but to a lesser extent, through the tabernacle and temple.
His body became the final sacrifice for our sins, and, by faith in His saving grace, it becomes our center of true worship.
Christ's body has also become a figure for the church. Ephesians 1:22-23. “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
What a wonderful thing it is to know Him as our Savior and to be reckoned by the Father in heaven as a son and joint heir with His Son.
Verse 22. “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.”
This is referred to in Luke 24:5-8. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered His words.”
Jesus proved He was the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead, and God proved His acceptance of Christ’s death for our sins by that resurrection.
The gospel is the good news that the death of Christ provided full payment for the penalty of sin. All who trust in His sacrificial death for the forgiveness of their sin will also experience the resurrection of the body and soul to eternal life.
Jesus knows the heart of everyone. He knows what is in your heart and mine today. The amazing thing is, God still forgives any sinner who will come to Him in sincere faith, asking for forgiveness. He promises peace with God, peace of mind, and eternal peace with Him in heaven. Those are His promises to the believer in Christ Jesus, but we have no promise of tomorrow in this life. 2 Corinthians 6:2 states “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
And the way to be saved is found in Acts 16:31. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”