Saturday, August 25, 2012

Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The First Reason: Commercialization of the Temple

Perhaps the most controversial act performed by Jesus during his earthly ministry was the clearing of the temple. This event is recorded in John’s Gospel in John 2:13–22.

John 2:13 records how Jesus traveled from Galilee to Judea to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The Passover is the major religious feast in the Jewish calendar. It celebrates the Exodus, when God saved Israel out of Egypt, and in particular, the way in which the angel of destruction passed over the people of Israel, sparing them, during the plague against the firstborn (see Exod 12:1–30). All Jews who were physically able would endeavor to travel to Jerusalem to attend the feast each year, and it was common for Galileans Jews to travel to Jerusalem for this purpose. Following this custom, Jesus also traveled to Jerusalem, despite knowing that Judea was the heartland of Jewish opposition to his ministry.

But when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, he saw that things in the temple were not as they should be. “He found in the temple those who were selling cattle and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting” down doing business (John 2:14). Jerusalem and especially the temple precincts were a hive of activity during Passover. The cattle, sheep, and doves were actually required for the people’s sacrifices in the temple; and the job of the money changers was to change any unclean foreign or Galilean coins into clean Jewish currency that could be used in the temple. So the animal sellers and money changers were in some sense providing necessary services, but Jesus saw a significant problem in what was happening.

John records that Jesus made “a whip out of cords,” and “cast everything out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle; and he poured out the money of the money changers and overturned their tables” (John 2:15). This was a controlled yet violent action on the part of Jesus. What would cause the normally gentle Jesus to react in this extreme way? The text supplies two reasons to explain Jesus’ action. These reasons are found in vv. 16–17.

The first reason concerns the purpose of the temple and the proper worship of God. By driving out the animals, and overturning the tables of the money changers, Jesus was clearly indicating that there was something wrong with this type of activity. Jesus briefly expressed his opinion through his words to those who were selling the doves: “Take these things from here! Don’t make my Father’s house a market!” (John 2:16).

According to Jesus, the people had turned the temple into a marketplace. The temple was supposed to be a place where God was worshiped. But the people had turned the proper worship of God into an opportunity for economic gain. For Israel, the worship of God was centered on the temple; but this worship had lost its focus on God, and had become a means for making money instead. Jesus’ words indicate that the worship of God in the temple at Jerusalem had become corrupted through commercialism.

Given that the temple imagery in the Bible finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus and the church (see John 1:14; 2:19–21; Eph 2:21–22; 1 Pet 2:5), it is interesting to ponder to what extent Christians today could be accused of turning Jesus and his church into an opportunity for making money. To come to Jesus and his church for primarily selfish gain (whatever form that may take) rather than primarily to worship God is to abuse the Father’s house.

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