A Bible study through John 1-6
After turning water to wine in Cana and quietly exiting that event, Jesus went to Capernaum where He set up a home base before traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. Remember what John the Baptist declared the first time Jesus appeared on the banks of the Jordan? “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Therefore, I find it fascinating that the Apostle John makes a point of noting the three years Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to observe the oldest and most important of all the Jewish feasts: the one celebrating and remembering the salvation of Israel in Egypt through the blood of lambs. Each year of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He committed to being in Jerusalem for the ritual God ordained as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice He would eventually make on a hill outside Jerusalem during Passover.
So Jesus went up to Jerusalem for Passover shortly after calling His disciples and starting His public ministry. While He was there an event took place that highlighted the differences between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day and started the tension between them that would ultimately culminate two years later. What was that event? The infamous purging of the temple.
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 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. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’”
The ESV translation makes this event sound somewhat peaceful with Jesus’ closing words as a gentle exhortation or recommendation. However, this was not the case at all! The NIV better translates the urgency, passion, and righteous anger that pulsed through Jesus’ veins during this moment: “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!”
This was not the gentle, soft spoken, peace-filled Jesus most often portrayed. Quite the contrary! Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and anger at how God’s children had defiled the Father’s holy temple with greed and personal gain. His eyes would have blazed; His voice would have been raised. He drove the people out with a whip made of cords. No, this was not a calm, peaceful version of the Son of God! But Jesus had a reason to be angry.
The temple of God was meant to be a place of fellowship and reconciliation between God and men. It was created to reflect the holiness and perfection of God. There were many rules to follow for appropriate conduct within the temple, and disobedience could lead to death. Since the very presence of Almighty God was intended to dwell within the walls of the temple, the structure was to be treated as holy ground and with complete reverence and awe for the Holy One Who dwelt within it.
Therefore, no wonder Jesus became filled with anger at what He found in the temple that fateful day. Instead of reverence and awe for God, the place was filled with attention-grabbing salesmen seeking to make the highest profit. Instead of being holy ground that must be approached with proper preparation, the house of God had become a common marketplace where goods were bought and sold to the highest bidder.
As the Son of God who was one with the Father from eternity past, it should not be surprising or shocking to us that Jesus would be enraged at the attitude and treatment of the temple of God on earth. Rather, we should be surprised if the second person of the Trinity reacted less than Jesus did on that day over two thousand years ago.
However, how does this apply to us? We do not go and worship God at the temple in Jerusalem. And even if we wanted to, we would not be allowed entry. Therefore, what lessons can we glean from this dramatic event early in Jesus’ public ministry?
Under the commands and laws of the Old Covenant, Israel had to meet with God in a structure. They made God a temple or house and could only meet and commune with the Almighty there. However, under the New Covenant of grace and redemption through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are no longer required to meet God in a building. We are now God’s house. When we enter God’s family by the blood of Christ, the Spirit of God makes His home within our hearts and we become the temple of God. As Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
However, just because we do not meet God in a building doesn’t mean that we are exempt from the sins the Israelites committed in Jesus’ day. In fact, since God’s house is now our hearts, it is actually easier for us to defile His temple. While we may not be setting up a physical booth in the temple to conduct business and make a profit off the gullible and unprepared, the bad attitudes and selfish motives in our hearts are just as evil.
How often do we try to bargain with God? How many times have we sought to manipulate people and situations to our advantage? While these are not tangible, physical actions of buying and selling like Jesus dealt with at the temple in Jerusalem, the end result is the same: it defiles the house of God by making it a place of personal gain rather than worship of God.
Therefore, while Jesus’ actions in John 2 may seem a bit extreme, the warning He gives us is clear: don’t mess with God’s house! Keep it pure and devoted to the worship and glory of the Lord. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians, we have been bought at an extraordinary price; therefore, we ought to glorify God and set apart our hearts as a pure and holy temple that the living God can comfortably inhabit.
While we will not always be perfect in the pursuit of maintaining a house worthy of God to dwell in, there is grace for the failures and new mercy for each day. Therefore, we can work on constantly improving the temple of our hearts and making it a place where God is glorified and worshipped rightly.
Therefore, are there any things in your life that could be defiling your temple? If Jesus was to walk into your heart and look around, would His reaction be similar to the one in John 2 where He became righteously outraged at the selfishness present in the house of God? How can you make your personal temple a more beautiful and holy place for God to dwell?
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
~1 Corinthians 6:19-20