John 02:13-25, “Christ Cleanses the Temple”

Jesus-Cleansing-the-Temple-Carl-Heinrich-Bloch

Scripture: John 2:13-25

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us 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 has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”

21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:13-25 ESV).

The temple was supposed to be a place of worship, a place to meet God, a place where people could say,

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! 7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:6-7 ESV).

SONG: FERNANDO ORTEGA – COME, LET US WORSHIP (Psalm 95:6-7) – 12 sec lead – 3:40

Context

John’s purpose in writing this Gospel is that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing, have life in his name (20:31).

So as we consider this event in the life of Jesus in which he cleanses the temple at Jerusalem, we want to especially consider how it demonstrates that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

John’s Gospel is like a piece of cloth where one strand or one thread of the cloth touches many other strands to make the whole piece. Already in the first chapter, Christ’s deity and humanity are tightly sewn together. Jesus is the Word who in the beginning already was, the Word that was with God and the Word that was God. And yet, the Word became flesh—the Son of God became the Son of Man who is like a ladder that links earth to heaven.

John the Baptist had pointed his own disciples to Jesus as the true light. John’s disciples Andrew and John (the son of Zebedee) followed Jesus and rejoiced in finding the Messiah (which means Christ). Philip told Nathanael that Jesus was the one that Moses and the prophets had written about. And Nathanael was amazed to realize that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel.

Now in the second chapter, Jesus’ disciples were with him at the wedding in Cana when he changed the water into wine. They saw his glory and believed in him.

They were also with him in this episode when he cleansed the temple in Jerusalem.

John the Baptist had testified that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Now John the Evangelist, the author of this Gospel, neatly frames Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple by placing it between two references to the Passover, the feast when the lamb was slain on the Day of Atonement:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 2:13 ESV).

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing (John 2:23 ESV).

We need to understand that this story is not just about cleansing the temple. It is not about unfair and abusive business transactions taking place. It is not just some isolated story about Jesus getting angry at what he found in the temple precincts. The whole point of this story is to reveal Jesus’ identity and his mission.

Cleansing the Temple

In chapter 2:13, John tells us that the cleansing of the temple took place just before the feast of Passover. There were three main Jewish feasts that all Jewish males in Israel were obligated to attend in Jerusalem: Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost. Three times a year, Jerusalem would be crowded with men from all over Israel. Even Jews living outside of Israel often travelled to Jerusalem for one or more of these special feasts.

The Feast of Passover was also a time when sacrifices had to be offered. It would have been difficult to travel from distant places with an animal of sacrifice such as a lamb or an ox. So, many people would wait and buy an animal in Jerusalem instead of bringing an animal from their home. An entire industry specializing in animal sacrifices grew up around the temple. At first, the animal merchants had set up their stalls in the Kidron Valley on the slope of the Mount of Olives a short distance from the temple, but now they had set up their shops in the temple, in the Court of the Gentiles.[1]

There were three courts in the temple in Jerusalem. There was the inner court for only male Jewish worshipers. The next separated area was for Jewish women only. Finally, there was the outer court for all non-Jewish people, the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this outer court for the Gentiles that the animal merchants were now carrying on their business.

There were also moneychangers in this part of the temple. During these high feasts, Jews came from all over the Roman Empire. They had to pay a temple tax, but that tax could only by paid with coins of the purest silver coming from Tyre. The moneychangers converted money to the approved currency and charged a percentage for their service.

This was big business. The animal merchants were there “because everyone offered a sacrifice for sins.”[2]

This was convenient worship. You could go to Jerusalem, change your money, buy an approved animal that was “without spot or blemish,” and take it to the priest. No worries!

All this was done for the convenience of the worshipers. You didn’t have to come to worship prepared. You could take care of the necessities at the last minute, and maybe, if you were sharp enough in haggling, you could get a good deal.[3]

This is what Jesus found in the temple in Jerusalem:

In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money (John 2:14 NLT).

This is what was going on in God’s house! Can you imagine the noise? People haggling over prices. Cattle lowing. Sheep bleating. How could anyone worship God with all that going on? Furthermore, there was no place left for the Gentiles at all.

The outer court was the only place where Gentiles could go to worship God, and Jesus called his Father’s house “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11:17 NRSV). The place of prayer had become a confusing, squabbling, stinking, shrieking mass of people, animals, and business deals. No one could pray.[4]

Worship Distractions

Worship should be an experience of entering into the presence of God, of conversing with God. But there was too much noise and distraction to hear anything from God.

We need to be careful about our worship today. We can be guilty of creating our own distractions. Please allow me to say a few things as a trained musician. Sometimes the music is simply too loud. If the sound system and the keyboard and the drums and the guitars and the singers are so loud that the people in the congregation cannot even hear their own voices, they will not be able to truly enter into worship. Worship is not for a few people up front. This is not a performance. Worship leaders are not the focus of our attention. Worship leaders should lead the congregation into the presence of God. But they must be careful not to drown out the congregation by having the sound system so loud that people cannot hear themselves. The people who run the sound equipment have a very important responsibility to set the sound system so that it does not distract or overpower the worshippers.

Another distraction is music when someone is speaking to the congregation. When the pastor is speaking to the church, everyone including the musicians should give him their full attention, even if he is only making announcements. There is a time for everything. There is a time to make music, and there is a time to refrain from making music. When someone is addressing the congregation, he should not have to compete with a keyboard or a guitar.

Musicians need to be very careful not to draw attention to themselves. In worship, there is an audience of One, and that One is the Lord God. In our singing and in our preaching and in everything we do, everyone’s attention should be on Him.

Jesus the Man

So Jesus came upon this scene in the temple: merchants selling animals for sacrifice, moneychangers sitting at their tables.

Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables (John 2:15 NLT).

Jesus was no wimp! He was no namby-pamby. He was as courageous as a lion! He is called the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Can you imagine him driving out the merchants and moneychangers, the sheep and cattle charging out of the temple area, the coins rolling all over the floor, and people scattering in every direction?

Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16 NLT).

Jesus does not charge them with corruption. He does not charge them with unethical business practices. He says that they should not be in the temple area at all.[5] This is a place of worship.

Jesus the Messiah

This is not the first time that Jesus has been to the temple. Luke tells us that Jesus had gone to the temple when he was a 12-year-old boy. But now he goes not as a boy, but as the anointed Messiah of God. And the first thing that he does is to cleanse the temple. He will cleanse it a second time in the last week of his life.

These are the first words that we hear him speaking in the temple:

“Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16 NLT).

The temple is his Father’s house. “My Father’s house,” he says. The next time that he calls God his own Father is in 5:17,

But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I” (John 5:17 NLT).

In the very next verse, John explains what it means when Jesus calls God his own father:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because… he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5:18 ESV).

When Jesus ordered the merchants to stop turning “my Father’s house into a marketplace,” he was claiming equality with God and the right to purify the temple.

In seeing this,

His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17 ESV).

Just as the disciples had seen his glory and believed in him when Jesus turned the water into wine, they now see Jesus fulfilling Old Testament references to the Messiah. Passion for God’s house and God’s glory consumed Jesus.

Demand for a Sign

Recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah was not the response of all the Jews. John has already told us:

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:11-12 ESV).

The Jewish leaders did not receive him. They demand a sign:

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18 ESV).

Note that they do not try to defend the sale of animals and the currency exchange in the temple itself. This has become a convenient way to make money for the temple, and perhaps for themselves. But they do recognize that Jesus has made a Messianic claim. He has claimed the right to purify the temple and they understand that this is what the Messiah would do. Four hundred years before, Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, had said that the Lord would “suddenly come to his temple” to purify it.

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi… (Malachi 3:1-3 ESV).

Suddenly Jesus has come to the temple. Suddenly he is chasing out the moneychangers and animal merchants. He is purifying his Father’s house. This is exactly what the Messiah would do. But there were two different reactions to this cleansing of the temple:

  1. Jesus disciples remembered that zeal for God’s house would consume the Messiah. They recognized that Jesus was the Messiah.
  2. The religious authorities saw the cleansing and demanded a sign.

They did not dispute the rightness of his action. They disputed his right to take the action

… “What miraculous proof do you show us to justify your actions?” (John 2:18 MIT).

God does not give signs on demand. He cannot be tamed. He is not our lapdog, called on to do tricks whenever we want. Again religious leaders will demand a sign but his response will be:

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah (Matthew 12:39 ESV).

That is the same sign that he gives them here in John 2.

Destroy This Temple

“All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20 NLT).

At the end of his ministry, Jesus is falsely accused of saying that he would destroy the temple. Yet, he never said, “I will destroy this temple.” The religious authorities asked for a sign. He gave them one. “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and in three days I will raise it up.” He invites them to destroy the temple.

But what temple was he talking about? Later he would prophecy that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. Not one stone would be left standing on another. That did happen in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem.

But that is not what Jesus is talking about here. John explains,

But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body (John 2:21 NLT).

Perhaps he even made a gesture to refer to his own body, but the religious authorities would not have anyone upset their way of doing things. The loved their position and power.

“What miraculous sign will you perform to show us that you have the right to purify the temple? Prove to us that you are the Messiah.”

As Messiah, Jesus had come as the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. He had come to be the Passover Lamb. He had come to die on the cross for your sins and mine. He would prove that he was Messiah by dying and rising again!

“Destroy this temple—destroy this body—and in three days I will raise it up.”

But he was speaking about the temple of his body (John 2:21 ESV).

As Michael W. Smith says in this song, “Nobody knew his secret ambition was to give his life away.”

SONG: MICHAEL W. SMITH – SECRET AMBITION – 8 second lead in – 3:41

Even the disciples failed to understand at that time what Jesus meant. It was only after the resurrection that they understood what Jesus was talking about. John explains in v. 22

When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:22 ESV).

  • They remembered.
  • They believed the Scripture.
  • They believed the word that Jesus had spoken.

The disciples saw more than signs. They saw the glory.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 ESV).

When Jesus changed the water into wine, his disciples saw his glory and believed in him (2:11).

Notice the contrast that John makes between the disciples and others in v. 23:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man (John 2:23-25 ESV).

The religious authorities demanded signs.

Others believed because of the signs, but Jesus did not trust them because their belief was based not on his word but on signs. True faith comes not through signs, but through the Word.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17 ESV).

The spoken word remains. It does not pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. Faith based on the word remains. Faith based on the Word does not change because the truth does not change.

But faith that is based on signs is in need of continual support.

Like the Jewish leaders, people today constantly ask for signs. They say, “Show me a miracle and I will believe.” Others say: “I read about Jesus’ miracles in the Bible, but I wasn’t there; I didn’t see those things with my own eyes. I’m not going to believe in Christ until I see Him with my own eyes, hear Him with my own ears, or see a miracle done in His name today.”

…The resurrection of Christ is the supreme sign. God will only do it once. God will not send Christ to die and be raised every week. By raising Christ from the grave, God established His church. Christ is the temple, and all men are commanded to come to Him in order to worship and serve the one true God.[6]

The disciples believed the Scripture.

They believed the word that Jesus had spoken.

Jesus came to the temple as Lord of the temple. He came to cleanse it and at the same time replace. Destroy this temple, he said, and I will raise it. As the Lamb of God he would take away the sins of the world. As the Lamb of God he would die for your sins and mine. Here in this second chapter of John, Jesus announces already his mission as Messiah: he would die and rise again.

SONG: MICHAEL W. SMITH — THE WONDERFUL CROSS

You must put your trust in Jesus. Let Jesus cleanse your temple, your heart, your mind. He alone is the only hope for your salvation. He calls on you to receive him as your Lord and Savior. Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached and believers are instructed in how to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And follow Jesus every day.


[1] Carson, John, p. 178.

[2] Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, p. 36.

[3] Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, p. 37.

[4] Comfort and Hawley, Opening the Gospel of John, p. 37-38.

[5] Carson, John, p. 179.

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