I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND (verses 12-13)
Have you ever been ripped off? Did you ever pay for goods or services that fell far short of their claims and advertising, or that weren’t worth what you paid for them? Have you ever been exploited by others so that they could make a profit at your expense? In our culture this injustice is called by many names, such as “cheated”, “bamboozled”, “shanghaied”, “fleeced”, and so on. Some of these injustices are performed by people who claim that they know God and are acting on His behalf. I imagine that most of us can think of a person, organization, product, or service that has left a bad impression in our minds. These rip-offs aren’t just common to our day. You might say that the first rip-off occurred in the Garden of Eden. Satan told Adam and Eve a half-truth. He told them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). They fell for his lie, and as a result they did not become like God, but they certainly learned about good and evil, and experienced the consequences of their disobedience to God.
We humans aren’t the only ones who get ripped off. God gets ripped off sometimes too. This passage of Scripture, John 2:12-17, shows some ways that God can be ripped off by people. Verses 12 and 13 are a transition to Jesus’ appearance at the temple in Jerusalem. Verse 12 says, “After this (the wedding feat at Cana), He went to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples, and there they stayed a few days.” A figure of speech called a “polysyndeton” is found here in this verse. The deliberate and repeated use of the word “and” is intended to draw our attention to each member of the group. From this passage of Scripture, as well as from the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, died at some time prior to Jesus’ public ministry, and that after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had other children.
The city of Capernaum was to become the headquarters for His ministry in the region of Galilee. In this case they were there only a few days because “the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The Passover was an annual feast in memory of the time when the people of Israel were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, and were led through the Red Sea and to the promised land. In Exodus 12, before His last plague on Egypt, God said that each family was to kill an unblemished lamb and put some of its blood on the outside door posts and lintel so that the death angel would pass over their houses and not kill their first-born children. They were to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread before fleeing from Egypt.
II. CORRUPTION IN THE TEMPLE (verse 14)
In verse 14 Jesus entered the temple, and we are told what He observes. “And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers seated.” In order to get to the sanctuary, a person must pass through four courts or courtyards. First, there is the Court of the Gentiles, then the Court of the Women, then the Court of Israel, and finally the Court of the Priests. Jesus had just entered the temple so He was in the Court of the Gentiles in verse 14.
God had called the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations. The Court of the Gentiles was meant to be a place where gentiles were to be welcomed, assisted, and instructed in the ways of the true God. However, because of their contempt for all things gentile, the religious authorities had decided to set up their animal market and the tables for the moneychangers in the Court of the Gentiles. Who knows how many interested, seeking gentiles came into their court, then left in anger, never to return.
Those animals were not supposed to be inside the temple, nor were the moneychangers to be conducting their business inside the temple. According to the instructions given to Moses in Leviticus and Numbers, the sacrificial animals were to be brought into the temple by the priests. These priests were to bind the animals, place them on the altar, slay them, catch the blood in basins and sprinkle it on the altar in the holy place. The body of the animal was burned and then taken out of the temple. The traffic jam in the Court of the Gentiles was impeding the procession of the priests in and out of the temple with the sacrificial animals, as well as keeping them from fulfilling their responsibilities according to the Law.
It had become a very corrupt system. For a few of the worshippers who travelled a great distance to participate in the Passover Feast, it was a convenience to purchase an animal there at the temple. But there were many cases where the priest in the person’s hometown would approve of an animal, but when the person brought it to the temple, the officials would say that it was unacceptable. So the person would be forced to buy one of the temple animals. Alfred Edersheim, in his book, “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah”, talks about the enormous overcharges for temple animals. On one occasion Simeon, the grandson of Hilell the High Priest, interfered and brought down the price of a pair of doves from one gold denar to half a silver denar. That’s quite a reduction in price!
This monopoly on the sacrificial animals and the outrageous charges tended to make the temple worship loathsome to the people. The sacrificial system was originally set up by God in the book of Exodus to allow the worshipper to bring one of his own animals that the person cared for since its birth and cherished. By giving this animal to be sacrificed, the worshipper was giving a part of himself and his work to God.
This was also the time of the year for the annual temple-tax to cover the cost of repairs to the temple. The temple officials would only accept payment with the sacred half-schekel of the temple, so all the local and foreign money had to be exchanged and, of course, there was a substantial service charge! The temple had become like a circus! The sounds of the animal auction, the noise of the moneychangers, and the offensive smell of a barnyard distracted the people from worship. That’s what the Lord Jesus and His disciples experienced when they walked into the temple that day.
III. THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (verses 15-16)
In Exodus 12:15 God tells his people, “on the first day (of the Passover celebration) you shall remove leaven from your houses”. Leaven, and everything with leaven in it, must be removed from the house in preparation for the Passover meal. Leaven was a symbol of sin and corruption. The Lord Jesus was about to rid His Father’s house of the sin and corruption that was in it.
Verse 15 says that Jesus “made a scourge out of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen”. I believe that the scourge was intended for the oxen. One dictionary defined an ox as a “lazy, reluctant creature” that needed to be goaded often to keep it going, and going in the right direction! Once Jesus got the oxen and sheep moving, the people would be moving out the door also to keep from being trampled by them. Either there wasn’t an ox goad handy or the throw-together scourge of cords was a better tool for the job. He also “poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables”. You can imagine the scramble for all the rolling coins! In verse 16 we see the Lord’s restraint as He said to those who were selling the doves, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” He wanted the doves left in their cages, and the cages removed from the courtyard of the temple. There was no desire on Jesus’ part to do any physical harm to the animals or the people.
Jesus’ warning to them in verse 16 also includes His motivation, as well as a brief description of Himself. He says, “Stop making my Father’s house a house of merchandise. He is proclaiming to them that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. Within minutes the Courtyard of the Gentiles was cleared. They just needed to pick up the litter, move the tables, and clean the floor! As several commentators have remarked: “Jesus ‘cleaned house’ that day!”
Did the religious leaders learn anything from this incident? Was there any conviction of sin, change of attitude, or change in behavior? No. After Jesus left the temple, they set up their tables, brought back the animals, divided up the coins, and were back in business again. The apostle John does not record a second cleansing of the temple by Jesus, but the other Gospel writers record a cleansing of the temple near the end of Jesus’ life (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark. 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46). I personally believe this was a second cleansing for at least two reasons. First, it avoids the hassle of trying to excuse John for putting this event in the “wrong place” in his Gospel. After all, he is outnumbered three-to-one! Secondly, Jesus has something different to communicate to the Jewish leaders by His second cleansing of the temple. Here in John 2:16 Jesus describes the temple as being “My Father’s house”. After His second cleansing of the temple, Jesus referred to the temple as “your house” (Matthew 23:38). God the Father had removed His abiding presence and His protection from “their temple”. Did this second cleansing get the point across to the Jewish leaders? Was a double-dose of reproof sufficient to turn their hearts back to the Lord, and their worship back to His guidelines? No. They ignored the words of the Lord and continued those same practices for almost forty more years. Jesus handed “their temple” over to destruction. That temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. and, after almost two thousand years, it has not yet been rebuilt. It was a high price to pay for their stubborn disobedience to God, and to the words of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. LESSONS FOR HIS DISCIPLES AND FOR US TODAY(verse 17)
This incident in Jesus’ life made a definite impression on His disciples. It caused them to bring Psalm 69:9 to their minds: a verse from a Messianic psalm, which says, “For zeal for Thy house has consumed me”. In this passage of Scripture it was predicted that, when the Messiah came, He would be utterly consumed with a passion for God. They had just seen Jesus manifesting an intense determination that the worship of God should be kept pure. Purity of thought, attitude and action is given a high priority in the New Testament. One of the beatitudes given by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount was “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The first characteristic of godly wisdom given by James is: “wisdom from above is first pure” (James 3:17).
Let us remember that as Christians, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Lord Jesus was anxious that the temple at Jerusalem should be kept pure, so we should be careful that our bodies are turned over to the Lord for continual cleansing by confessing our sins to Him and turning away from them. Let us also remind ourselves that true worship is voluntary. It involves the consecration of ourselves, and all we possess, to Him. Have we given the Lord Jesus the place of ownership in our own individual lives? Are we being good stewards of all He has given us, using it for His glory as an act of adoration to Him. If so, it will be obvious to those around us. Are we consumed with a passion for God and a zeal for God? If so, we will reap an eternal inheritance, and receive His praise and rewards when we stand before Him in heaven some day.
Thank you for coming to this construction site: John 2:12-17 Please come back, and also visit some of the other completed sermons when you have the time and the interest. May your worship of God be pure and free from unnecessary distractions.