During the Passover season, like most Jews, Jesus went up to Jerusalem along with His disciples. But when He entered the temple courts, He saw the temple being occupied by merchants selling cattle, sheep and doves and also people exchanging money.
All the other three Gospels place the temple clearing incident towards the end of Jesus’s ministry. The popular belief seems to be that Jesus would have visited the temple at Jerusalem more than once with His disciples. But even if Jesus visited the temple on more than one occasion, Him reacting in this manner twice reflect the actions of an insane person, someone doing the same thing again but expecting different results. That does not seem like Jesus to me and then it seems like all the four Gospel authors are writing about the last week of Jesus’s ministry with John not recording the incident in a chronological order.
Jesus Clears the Temple Courts
In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.John 2:14
Jerusalem was a pilgrimage for most people as the city on a hill was a prime tourist spot filled with year-round visitors who wanted to offer sacrifices at the headquarters of the Jewish culture. The number of tourists would have increased several folds during the festive seasons such as the current Passover season, when Jesus was visiting the temple. Since many of the temple worshipers were outsiders, they might not be able to bring with them the animals that were needed for their sacrifices and also needed someone to exchange their foreign currencies into the ones that were accepted as offerings by the pharisees. The temple would have provided such travelers with the sheep and doves needed for their sacrifices and the required currency for their offerings. Overtime, due to the large number of devotees that were visiting the temple, this activity was taken over by the merchants with a profit motive. No one minds paying a little extra for convenience and there was a lot of convenience provided by these merchants as the pilgrims did not have to worry about carrying their own sacrifices from their hometown and could travel light.
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”John 2:15-16
While it did provide convenience to the travelers from distant lands coming to see the temple of the Lord, it had trivialized the connection that God wanted with His people into merely a transaction. The intimate relationship between God and His people was being prostituted for profit by the temple leaders. Even their ‘hero’, king David showed them a better way when he wrote,
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.Psalms 51:16-17
Hannah sacrificed at the temple in Shiloh for many years but her prayers were never answered. But when she brought her broken heart before God and honestly prayed, her prayers were answered at that moment when she established a connection with her maker. The temple at Jerusalem was providing a service to the worshipers. The service was more intangible in nature and something other than the convenience the merchants could provide. They provided the people with mental satisfaction of them having done their part. They made the journey all the way to Jerusalem and as per the law gave their sacrifices and offerings that put them in the good books with God. But this entire act of prostituting the connection with God for some mental satisfaction was achieving satan’s purpose of keeping the hearts of people away from God and thus entailing the wrath of Jesus.
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”John 2:18
On seeing the ruckus made by Jesus when He drove out the merchants, the Jewish leaders came forward questioning His authority. They asked Jesus to show them a sign (possibly a miracle) to prove that He was from God. It was quite common for the Jerusalem leaders to question the authority of any prophet to verify if they were sent from God. The leaders ran the same background check with John the baptist also. Since majority of the Jews were illiterate or did not have access to the old testament scriptures, it was the job of the learned pharisees to verify a ‘voice’ and ascertain whether it was from God. The leaders in Jerusalem were embarrassed by this unknown Nazarene and also suffered a dent in their weekly commission that they would have received from the merchants who were authorized to conduct their business in the temple courts. They needed a sign to support Jesus’s actions or they would have thrown Him in prison for attempting to cause an insurrection.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”John 2:19
Jesus did not answer their demands by giving them a sign immediately but foretold about His own death and resurrection that will be the ultimate sign of His authority given to everyone. The Jews had great pride in their temple which was built several times, the latest one built by Herod which took almost forty-six years to complete. Throughout history, they revered the temple more than God and mourned the destruction of the temple by foreign kings, rather than crying over their betrayal of God. Jesus talking about destroying the temple would have drawn the wrath of the pharisees, as speaking against their temple was blasphemous to them. Jesus however was not talking about a temple made by man but His own body that would be destroyed and pieced back together within three days. The disciples realized what Jesus meant after He was resurrected but for the others this was an act of terrorism that Jesus was instigating. However years later during the invasion of Jerusalem, the precious temple of the Jews was destroyed once again, but for a chosen few, an everlasting temple was given to them on the day of the infamous Pentecost.
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.John 2:24-25
None of the people during Jesus’s time could even remotely understand Jesus or His ministry. Even His own disciples questioned Him when He talked about His sacrificial death on the cross. To understand the heart of God, we need the Spirit of God residing within us. Without His Spirit, none of the words spoken by Jesus or the prophets or written in the scriptures would have any effect on our lives. Even to understand Jesus, we need Jesus. The Spirit was freely given to all of us after Jesus’s death, resurrection and ascension and because of His Spirit, we are entrusted with Jesus’s identity. Let us not take it as a privilege that we have been entrusted but earnestly pray for the ones around us who still have not understood the purpose that God has for their lives.
V13: Is this the last week of Jesus's earthly life as other gospels place the temple clearing incident at the end of Jesus's ministry? V14: Why were the temple courts occupied by merchants? V15: Why was Jesus hopping mad when He saw all this? V18: Why did the leaders ask for a sign? V19: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”, what is Jesus talking about? Summary - Why did Jesus not entrust His true identity to the people of Jerusalem? Why has He entrusted it to us?