Monday, September 3, 2012

Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The Second Reason: Zeal for God

The second reason given in John’s Gospel to explain the extreme action of Jesus in clearing the temple is given in John 2:17 (for a discussion about the first reason , see “Why Did Jesus Clear the Temple? The First Reason: Commercialization of the Temple”). After reflection on the significance of this event, presumably after Jesus had been resurrected, “[Jesus’] disciples remembered that it was written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17). The disciples came to understand that Jesus’ action in clearing the temple was not a case of Jesus losing his temper. Jesus was angry, but it was not an unjustified anger. Jesus cleared the temple because of his zeal for his Father’s house.

The statement “zeal for your house will consume me” is a quotation from Ps 69:9 [69:10 MT]. Psalm 69 is a prayer of salvation offered to God by a righteous sufferer. In the context of Ps 69, the word translated as consumed (אכלתני from the root אכל eat) has negative connotations. The second half of Ps 69:9, which is not quoted in John’s Gospel, confirms this: “zeal for your house has consumed me; the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen upon me.” In Ps 69:9, the idea of being consumed is paralleled with being reproached. This connection between zeal and reproach in Ps 69 links zeal for God together with opposition. When people stand up for God, they will experience some from of opposition.

The classic case of zeal for God leading to opposition is seen in Jesus himself. Because of Jesus’ zeal for the proper worship of God, he suffered opposition. Jesus’ zeal for God meant that his words and actions challenged the status quo. Driving people out of the temple and overturning tables was a challenge to Jewish society in general, and in particular to the Jewish authorities. As a result of his zeal for God, Jesus ended up being “consumed,” that is, destroyed.

Jesus’ zeal for God ultimately led to the cross. This was where Jesus was “consumed.” Jesus was prepared to challenge the way in which the people of his day were treating God; but he suffered opposition, and died on the cross, as a result of his zeal. This is why, when quoting Ps 69:9, the author of John’s Gospel changed the sense of the original wording has consumed—the Hebrew perfect conjugation in אכלתני is effectively equivalent to a past tense—to will consume—καταφάγεται is the future tense of κατεσθίω eat up, devour, consume. This change suggests that John and the other disciples understood that the ultimate fulfillment of Ps 69:9 took place in the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God ultimately led to his consumption on the cross. But the immediate significance of the content of John 2:17 is to explain that Jesus’ zeal for God was one of the key reasons that led Jesus to clear the temple.


Randa said...

Thank you for posting Steven, interesting and illuminating reflections.

Steven Coxhead said...

Thanks, Randa, for your encouragement! Glad you found the post helpful.

Many blessings!

John Allaire said...

Thank you Steven