John 2:14-25 The Temple

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

Having introduced the Messiah as the one who cares about sufficient wine at a wedding, John quickly turns to the other side of the coin. On the one hand there is joy wherever he reigns. But there are also wrath consequences for those who have another agenda.

Wrath is never sending people to eternal damnation after they die (see comment on 3:17-21). But the Son of God certainly intervenes in judgment in a nation when the name (character) of God is misrepresented by false religion.

Warnings of impending wrath have been given among all nations. But God has chosen to give an exact historical description of how wrath again and again worked out among the Jewish people of the Old Testament. And for them, the focus of either blessing or terrible wrath is connected with their place of worship (tabernacle or temple) and the injustice and oppression of their political and business leaders.

But first there are warnings given through prophets (Amos 3:7), and there is always time to change course (Joel 2:12-14). When the wrath is poured out it is decisive, very severe, and everyone knows that it is God who has intervened (see Isaiah 41:20, Ezekiel 6:10,14, 7:4,9,27,J oel 3:17).

In this section of John's Gospel the Messiah warns the priestly and business leaders of Jerusalem that the temple in Jerusalem is being misused, and is therefore in danger of impending wrath.

Having chosen to take birth among the Jewish people, the Messiah makes a whip of cords, and clears the store keepers out of the temple. His words explain exactly why they are under the wrath of God. "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a market place" (2:16). The prophetic command "stop making" indicates that this is a warning, and if they do not listen the wrath of God is inevitable.

Many commentators assume that this is the same cleansing of the temple as in the other three Gospels. This seems very unlikely. In the introduction we noted that when John wrote this Gospel (say about 66 BC) he must have had at least one of the other Gospels before him. All three synoptic Gospels locate the cleansing of the temple three or four days before the crucifixion (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46). Knowing this, the author of John's Gospel wants us to know that Jesus had given a first warning during a previous Passover visit to the city. But after a temporary improvement at that time the misuse of the temple soon reverted to business as usual.

The second warning came two or three Passovers later when Jesus cleared the temple after the Palm Sunday entrance described in the three synoptic Gospels. It was at that time that he announced to his disciples how the temple and city of Jerusalem would be destroyed in their generation. The reason was that the temple was meant to be a house of teaching and prayer for all nations (Matthew 23:36, 24:1-2,34, Mark 13:1-2,30, Luke 21:5-6, 20, 32, Isaiah 51:4).

After the crucifixion the religious establishment of the city was given forty more years to correct the situation before the destruction finally occured in AD 70. Many Jewish people, including their leaders, became Christians (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:7), but those who refused to serve the Messiah hardened their hearts and they refused to make the changes which were needed.

As the time drew nearer, the synoptic Gospels had been written and they made clear what Jesus had predicted. And no doubt the messages of Christian prophets also gave this warning in church gatherings (see Acts 11:27, 21:10-11, 1 Corinthians 14:29).

2:13 Based on the above sequence of events, this would therefore be an earlier Passover that Jesus attended at the beginning of his ministry.

2:14-15  The last of the Old Testament prophets had described how the priests were failing to perform their teaching function (Malachi 2:7-8). He then predicted the Lord would "come suddenly to his temple" and would act like "a refiner and purifier of silver" (Malachi 3:1-3)

2:16 In this first cleansing of the temple the warning is clear "Stop making my Father's house a market place" (2:16). Either they stop what they are doing to misrepresent the name of God in Jerusalem, or the wrath intervention is inevitable. Here the emphasis is on business crowding out the proper function of the temple. It was meant to be a place where people be assured of God's forgiveness, hear the Word of God, and where they could sing psalms of joy, and join in praise and worship (Isaiah 51:3-4). That was crowded out in the atmosphere of a noisy bazaar (a modern tourist trap).

The words spoken at the time of the second clearing of the temple (just before the crucifixion) are quite different : "My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:13, Mark 11:17, Luke 19:46). Things had become much worse. Private and public prayer had become impossible. And visitors from far and wide were actually being robbed when they wanted to change money (the tax had to be paid in temple currency) or when they wanted to buy the prescribed animals to offer in sacrifice.

2:17 The fierceness of the Messiah's use of a whip to clear out the temple reminds his disciples of the words "Zeal for your house will consume me" (Psalm 69:9).

2:18 The religious authorities wanted to know what authority Jesus had for these prophetic words and actions. "What miraculous sign can you give us? What rabbinic seminary did you study in? What school of the prophets do you belong to?"

2:19 In his answer Jesus changed from the literal meaning of the word "temple," meaning a building for worship, to the common metaphorical use of the word "temple" for a human body where God is known and worshiped in the Spirit. Paul for example would write "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you" (1 Corinthians 3:16).

2:20-21 The Jewish leaders assumed Jesus was speaking about the temple of Herod which had been under construction for 46 years. How could that be destroyed and then raised in three days? The Messiah would indeed destroy that temple in AD 70. But first they would kill the Messiah's human body, and that would be raised in three days.

2:22 Jesus' words about his own resurrection never registered properly in the disciples' mind, but they remembered them after the event.

2:23 In his Gospel John makes clear that there is not one single act of believing. Faith is a direction of looking and loving (3:19-21). Some disciples had been baptized, but did not really believe (6:64), others learned with Jesus for a time and then "turned back" (6:66, see 8:31-32), and Judas was an apostle before betraying his Lord (12:4). So it is not surprising that many who had believed in Jesus because of his signs later joined in having him crucified.

2:24-25 This is why John points out that Jesus knew the fickleness of the human heart. As the Gospel proceeds we will see that our assurance of faith is not based on some decision that we made, or some evidence of our own goodness, or someone "to testify" about us. The Messiah knows our heart, and the frailty of our faith. Faith is simply a direction of looking to him, accepting his love for us, and letting the Holy Spirit perfect us in love.

3:1-21    Born Again