Worship

It Happened on a Sunday!

Sunday

 

 

You’ll never guess what happened on Sunday. I think you’ll be surprised to discover some of the great events of the Bible that took place on Sunday, and just what God says about “the day after the Sabbath”!

1.      The SDA Challenge

1.1.     Are we wrong to worship God on Sunday?

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Is there any warrant for worshiping God on Sunday? Recently the churches of Vanuatu have been challenged to find just one verse that supports the practice of worshipping on Sunday. Never mind the historical fact that for nearly 20 centuries the church of Jesus Christ has met on Sunday for teaching, preaching, prayer, worship, and fellowship… But is there any biblical support for the practice of worshipping on Sunday?

On the other hand, is this a major issue that could put one’s salvation in jeopardy? I mean, is it true that by meeting to worship God on Sunday, that instead of truly worshipping God in spirit and truth, we are somehow worshipping the sun, because it’s SUNday? Would that then mean that people who worship on SATURday are actually worshipping the planet Saturn? Is it true that worshipping God on Sunday is blasphemous? Is it true that this is the mark of the beast?

Wow! Those are some fantastic remarks made about the church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Is God really upset that people would worship him on a Sunday? Is it true that our salvation is so fragile that it depends on worshipping on a certain day? Is salvation something that we do for ourselves by worshipping on a certain day of the week? Is salvation something that we do, or something that was done for us by Christ’s death on the cross?

Christians who know the Word of God will not be intimidated or shaken by these scare tactics. We know that the message of the gospel was not the preaching of the Sabbath but the preaching that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for our sins and was literally, physically raised from the dead that we might be right with God through faith in his Son.

We have spent the last several weeks showing what the Scriptures teach about the Sabbath, the Law, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of God.

We have seen that

  • the Law pointed to Christ who completely fulfilled the Law.
  • that the work of Christ on the cross is a complete and finished work.
  • that Christ is the end of the Law for everyone who believes.
  • that our salvation does not depend on keeping the Sabbath.
  • Rather, our salvation is secure in our Savior Jesus Christ.

1.2.     Just One Verse

One of the tactics used is to challenge listeners to find just one verse in the Bible that says that we are to worship on a Sunday. Money is often offered by such groups to anyone who can find a verse that speaks of worship on Sunday. When no one responds, everyone is convinced that it must be wrong to do right on Sunday. As we have seen, this sounds so very much like the Pharisees who found wrong in all the good works that Jesus did on the Sabbath. We are told that worship is a matter of observing the calendar, that what God real wants is for us to get the day right.

The Christian churches of Vanuatu could also ask our friends who have raised the question, “Please show us one verse in the New Testament that shows that believers have to keep the sabbath.” No gat. There is not one single verse in the New Testament that tells believers to keep the Sabbath.

Now, it is not my purpose to make enemies. I would like to help people to see the truth of God’s Word. I would even hope to help those leaders who have been deceived and who are now deceiving others. I hope that you can sense that my desire is not to divide but help those who through grace have believed the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us (Acts 18:27-28).

We have seen that there are many commandments for New Testament believers. Jesus has clearly instructed us to make disciples of all peoples everywhere and to teach them to obey all that he has commanded us. But as we read through all the commandments of the New Testament, not once are we ever told to keep the Sabbath.

I should point out here that obeying God’s Word is not how we are saved. We are saved by what Christ has done for us, not by what we do for him. Obedience flows out of love and joy for what he has done for us.

So there are commands in the New Testament, but never a command to keep the Sabbath.

On the other hand, there are also many lists of various sins that the believer will avoid, but breaking the sabbath is never listed. In fact, we are told not to let anyone judge us about the Sabbath for it is only a shadow; the reality is Christ.

 

2.      Shadow and Reality

We have seen in previous broadcasts that the Old Covenant was a shadow of the New Covenant. I want to look more closely at some of the shadow because the shadow points to the reality.

In Leviticus 23, Moses gives a detail description of the appointed feasts of the LORD (Leviticus 23:2, 4).

  1. The Sabbath Lev 23:3
  2. The Feast of Passover Lev 23:5
  3. The Feat of Unleavened Bread Lev 23:6
  4. The Feast of Firstfruits Lev 23:10
  5. The Feast of Weeks Lev 23:15.
  6. The Feast of Trumpets Lev 23:24
  7. The Day of Atonement Lev 23:27
  8. The Feast of Booths Lev 23:34

I want to consider two of these feasts: the Feast of the Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks (also known as the Feast of Pentecost).

2.1.     The Feast of the Firstfruits

We read about the Feast of the Firstfruits in Leviticus 23:9-11.

Leviticus 23:9-11 ESV And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

Let us well notice that the Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on the day after the Sabbath. This feast took place right after the Feast of Passover, on the day after the Sabbath of the Passover.

Let me underline that it took place not on the Sabbath, but on the day after the Sabbath. Verse 11 says that the priest,

shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.

We all know that “the day after the Sabbath” was a Sunday. God prescribed that the Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on a Sunday.

This offering of firstfruits took place at the beginning of the harvest and signified Israel’s gratitude to and dependence on God.[1]

We have a further description of this feast in Deuteronomy 26.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 ESV “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. 3 And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ 4 Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God. 5 “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6 And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. 7 Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. 9 And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. 11 And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.

Notice exactly what God says the Israelites were to do on that Sunday after the Passover. Verse 10 says that they were to present the firstfruits of the ground which the LORD had given them. “And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God.” Here is a shadow of the reality that was to come. They were to worship the LORD on a Sunday.

The Feast of Passover had taken place just days before the Feast of the Firstfruits. The Passover commemorated the time when God had delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. For 400 years the Israelites had been slaves in Egypt under the rule of Pharaoh. A Passover lamb had been slain for each family. The blood of the lamb had been painted on the doorposts of every home. The angel of death had been sent to kill the firstborn of every family in Egypt, but when the angel saw the blood of the lamb on the doorpost, he would “pass over” that home, sparing the firstborn child. That night the Israelites were delivered from Egypt (Exodus 12:1-13). All of this pointed to the Lamb of God who would be slain on a hill called Calvary in order to deliver us from Satan’s rule and the slavery of sin.

In celebration of this great deliverance from Egypt, the Israelites were to present the firstfruits of their crops and to worship the LORD, the first day after the Sabbath of Passover. It happened on a Sunday.

  • Every year
    For 1,446 years
  • From the giving of the Law
    Until the coming of Christ
    And until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
  • The Jews were commanded to celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits and to worship the LORD
  • The day after the Sabbath of the Passover.

It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the Sabbath.”

It happened on a Sunday and pointed to that great event that the New Testament tells many times took place on “the first day of the week”: the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This was the Feast of the Firstfruits and it pointed to Christ, the firstfruits of the resurrection:

1 Corinthians 15:20 ESV But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:23 ESV But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

Romans 8:23 ESV And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

So Christ is the firstfruits of the our future resurrection. The firstfruits came first; the full harvest came weeks later. Christ’s resurrection was first; our resurrection is still future, but both Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection are part of what the Bible calls “the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:5-6). The Feast of the Firstfruits took place “the day after the Sabbath.” It happened on a Sunday. The Feast of the Firstfruits pointed to the resurrection of Christ that would take place on Sunday, “the first day of the week.”

Just how important is the resurrection of Christ? The Scriptures tell us that if Christ had not been raised from the dead, then our preaching would be in vain, and your faith would be in vain. We would still be lost in and would perish (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

Again and again, the New Testament emphasizes that this most important event took place on Sunday, after the Sabbath, on “the first day of the week”:

Matthew 28:1 ESV Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mark 16:2 ESV And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

Mark 16:9 ESV [Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.

Luke 24:1 ESV But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.

John 20:1 ESV Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

All these events of the resurrection day took place on Sunday, the first day of the week.

John 20:19 ESV On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

  • It was on a Sunday that the Lord arose from the grave (Mark 16:9).
  • It was on a Sunday that He appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1).
  • It was on a Sunday that He walked and talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31).
  • It was on a Sunday “when he was at table with them, [that] he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them (Luke 24:30 ESV).
  • It was on a Sunday that the ten apostles and others had gathered in the upper room (John 20:19).
  • It was on a Sunday that the resurrected Christ appeared to them in the upper room (John 20:19).
  • It was on a Sunday that He gave the great commission “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).
  • It was on a Sunday that He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22 ESV).

It happened on a Sunday.

It happened on a Sunday, but Thomas was not there. It was a eight days later — count them: 1 – Sunday, 2 – Monday, 3 – Tuesday, 4 – Wednesday, 5 – Thursday, 6 – Friday, 7 – Saturday, 8 – Sunday — It was on a Sunday that Jesus chose to appear again to his disciples, this time Thomas was with them:

John 20:26 ESV Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

It happened on a Sunday. And it had been prefigured in the Feast of the Firstfruits. God had specified that Feast of the Firstfruits was to take place on “the day after the Sabbath” of Passover. God had commanded that the Feast of the Firstfruits would take place on a Sunday and that the Israelites were to worship God and thank Him for delivering them from slavery in Egypt. God had said that it was to take place the day after the Sabbath because he was going to raise his Son from the dead on the first day of the week, not the last day of the week. It would be a new beginning. A new creation. And it happened on a Sunday.

2.2.     The Feast of Pentecost

Back in Leviticus 23, immediately after the instructions about the Feast of the Firstfruits, God gave instructions about another shadow, the Feast of Weeks, that would point to another reality. The Feast of the Firstfruits took place on a Sunday at the very beginning of the harvest. That Sunday was the starting point for the count to the Feast of Weeks.

Leviticus 23:15-16 ESV “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. 16 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD.

Two times in these two verses, the phrase “the day after the Sabbath” is used. In verse 15, “the day after the Sabbath” refers to the Sunday when the Feast of the Firstfruits took place. The Israelites were to count seven full weeks from the Feast of the Firstfruits from that Sunday to the “day after the seventh Sabbath.” Seven full weeks were counted to the Feast of Weeks. Verse 16 says, “You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath.” The Feast of Weeks was fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits. The Greek translation of this Old Testament verse uses the word πεντήκοντα (pentêkonta, Leviticus 23:16 BGT). That is where we get the word “Pentecost.” The Feast of Weeks was the Feast of Pentecost. It was a time of great celebration as the harvest was brought in.

Deuteronomy 16:10-11 ESV Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God…

They were to rejoice before the Lord. It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the seventh Sabbath.”

  • Every year
    For 1,446 years
  • From the giving of the Law
    Until the coming of Christ
    And until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
  • The Jews were commanded to rejoice before the LORD on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost,
  • The day after the 7th Sabbath after the Feast of Firstfruits.

It happened on a Sunday, “the day after the 7th Sabbath” for nearly 1,500 years.

The Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Weeks. The Feast of the Firstfruits pointed to the resurrection of Christ on a Sunday, “the first day of the week.” Then, from Resurrection Day, seven full weeks were counted. Fifty days until “the day after the seventh Sabbath.” A Sunday. The Day of Pentecost.

Acts 2:1-4 ESV When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

It happened on a Sunday.

  • It was on a Sunday that “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind.”
  • It was on a Sunday that “divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.”
  • It was on a Sunday that 120 disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • It was on a Sunday that they “began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
  • It was on a Sunday that a great multitude of devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” heard the disciples telling in their own languages “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:5, 11).
  • It was on a Sunday that the Apostle Peter preached to the Jews at Jerusalem that God had raised Jesus up from the dead and exalted him to the right hand of the Father and that he, Jesus, had pour out the Holy Spirit on the disciples, on a Sunday (Acts 2:33).
  • It was on a Sunday that Peter gave the invitation to those who heard him, telling them to repent and to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38).
  • It was on a Sunday that 3,000 people received Christ, were baptized in water and were added to the church (Acts 2:41).

It was the beginning of the Church. It was the Feast of Pentecost, a harvest celebration, and what a harvest of souls it was!

It happened on a Sunday.

 

3.      Sunday and the Early Church

It was for this reason that with time and the more the church spread beyond Jerusalem that Christians began meeting on Resurrection Day. Sunday.

3.1.     The Church in Troas

In Acts 20, on Paul’s third missionary journey, we read that the Christians in Troas met on the first day of the week.

Acts 20:6-7 ESV …we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days. 7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Though Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem (Acts 20:16), Paul and Luke waited in Troas for six days until the first day of the week when the believers met. They met. They broke bread together, meaning that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion together. And Paul preached to them.

And it happened on a Sunday.

 

3.2.     The Church in Corinth

We read in 1 Corinthians 16, that the church at Corinth met the first day of the week.

1 Corinthians 16:2 ESV On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

The churches took special offerings every Sunday for the church in Jerusalem.

OBJECTION: Some think that Paul was telling the believers to simply be systematic and put an offering aside every week in the privacy of their own homes.

ANSWER: IF THAT WERE THE CASE…

  1. It would not matter what day of the week they collected it. Paul specifically tells them to put aside their offerings and to store them up “the first day of every week.”
  2. If the families were simply putting aside an offering in their homes, there would still have been a need to collect it when Paul came. But he had specifically instructed them to collect the offerings “so that there will be no collecting when I come”

3.3.     The Churches of Galatia

Paul founded the churches of Galatia during his first missionary journey. These churches were in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. These churches also met on the first day of the week. Note again what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 ESV Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.

So Paul had instructed the churches of Galatia to set aside an offering on the first day of every week.

 

3.4.     The Lord’s Day

God had ordained that the Feast of the Firstfruits and the Feast of Pentecost take place on “the day after the Sabbath,” i.e. on a Sunday. Those feasts pointed to the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which took place on a Sunday. Instead of meeting to worship on the Sabbath, the churches began meeting on the day of the Lord’s resurrection. The day of the Lord’s resurrection soon became known as the Lord’s Day. We read in Revelation 1:10,

Revelation 1:10 ESV I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…

The Apostle John was worshipping the Lord. He was in the Spirit on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The Lord Jesus met him and revealed himself to John, and revealed to him The Book of Revelation.

It happened on a Sunday.

 

4.      The Testimony of the Early Church Fathers

The early Church Fathers, those first Christians who left us their testimony of life in the early church, confirm that the church met on the Lord’s Day and not the Sabbath.

4.1      Ignatius of Antioch lived during most of the first century and into the second century.

He was a student of the Apostle John. Ignatius describes Christian believers as those who…

have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death–whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master…[2]

He goes on to say,

let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week].[3]

4.2      Justin Martyr lived from A.D. 110 to 165. This is what he says about Sunday:

But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.[4]

The FIRST DAY of the week was the day set apart for special worship by the saints of God, LONG BEFORE CONSTANTINE WAS BORN, OR THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH WAS KNOWN.[5]

 

Conclusion

What shall we say then to these things? Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath? No, it is not. Nor is Saturday.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 2:16 not to let anyone trouble you or pass judgment on you concerning the Sabbath. It was only a shadow. Christ is the reality.

Will keeping the Sabbath save you? No. Neither will going to church on Sunday. Someone said that if a mouse lives in a cookie jar (biscuit jar), it won’t make him a cookie. Going to church on a Sunday will not make you a Christian. It will not save you. Nor will going to church on the Sabbath. That is not the gospel. It is not the teaching of the New Testament. It is a different gospel that is not the gospel at all.

Christ alone can save you. Do not put your trust in anything you can do. Put your trust in what Christ has done. He died on the cross to take the punishment for your sins and to set you free from the power of sin. Do not reject him who calls you to put your trust in him alone.

[1] Duane A. Garrett, “Feasts and Festivals of Israel” in Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 250.

[2] Epistle Of Ignatius To The Magnesians, “Chapter IX.–Let us live with Christ.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Justin Martyr, First Apologia – “Chapter LXVII.—Weekly worship of the Christians.”

[5] Maurice Nicholson, “Disproving Seventh-day Adventism.”

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

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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.