Cleansing the Temple – John 2

Read John 2:12-22 here.

I regard the first two chapters of John as establishing Jesus’ identity.  The prologue in 1:1-18 makes some grand claims about who Jesus is:

  • v1. in the beginning with God, and the Word was God.
  • v4. in him was life.
  • v10. the world was made through him.
  • v12. to those who believe he gave the right to become children of God.

From 1:19 on, John gives examples to back up these statements:

  • John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
  • Andrew, Peter, Philip & Nathaniel follow Jesus.
  • Nathaniel declares Jesus to be the Son of God and King of Israel.
  • Jesus demonstrates his power with his miracle at the wedding at Cana.
  • Jesus demonstrates his authority when he cleanses the temple in Jerusalem.

The story of Jesus cleansing the temple is often used as a basis for discussing anger, when it’s appropriate, and when it’s not.  But John doesn’t comment on Jesus’ anger or demeanor.  Yes, he made a whip, but was that to flay merchants, or to prod livestock?  Here are a couple of different views on this:

No doubt the disciples tossed and turned a long, sleepless night that evening; it must have been terribly disconcerting to witness Jesus unhinged, throwing furniture, screaming at the top of his lungs, and flinging money into the air. Perhaps they ran for cover with the crowd. I would have.” (read the whole sermon here.)

When Jesus took that table and put it on end, when he grabbed a fistful of coins and dropped them on the floor, and while he was doing these things quoted the scriptures to people, Jesus is not only telling about the kingdom of God, he’s acting it out. Can you imagine being there? It is spell-binding; I think it would be captivating to watch him and listen to him. (read the whole sermon here.)

One of these authors sees Jesus yelling and screaming, cattle stampeding and people fleeing.  The other sees Jesus teaching, perturbed by what’s taking place in the temple, but teaching his audience, albeit with some very dramatic illustrations.

Which of these descriptions is closer to your picture of this dramatic scene?  Which better demonstrates Jesus’ authority?  If this passage teaches us of Jesus’ authority, how does it make a difference in our lives?



  1. rob

    Looking at all the Gospels, I do not believe that Jesus was screaming and yelling, but I do believe that he was was angry and showed his anger. I believe that Jesus kept the anger in check and cleared the Temple of all the unauthorized acts being done there. As he did continue to teach the remainder of the day at the Temple.
    God did not authorize the money changers or the cattle and other animals to be sold in the Temple. While it may have been custom approved by man, it was never approved by God. It was prophesied that that Jesus would clear the temples (Jer. 7:11), thus fulfilling another of the prophesies of God. (Just like the prophesy of Christ’s birth, but more importantly the prophesy of His death, burial and resurrection), that the Messiah, who was always with God (the Three God-Head), came to Earth and had all authority given to Him by the Father. Jesus did not want anything unholy in HIS temple; as being part of God it was HIS temple and anything not authorized did and does not belong there.
    Man authorized the exchange tables and the animals in the Temple not God and thus Jesus had all right to clear these items from the Temple.
    We can take a lesson from Jesus that we must adhere to the commands to God and not do anything that is not authorized by God in the New Testament. Any act of worship must have a command, i.e: instructions for worship, the Lord’s Supper, etc. with out this we are no better than the Jews in the Temple.
    All authority was given to Jesus on Earth as in Heaven, we see this in all 4 of the Gospels and He gave us very specific commands on what to do (The Great Commission/ Ascension).
    I think it is very important that Jesus cleared the Temple and that it was recorded in all 4 Gospels to show exactly how much authority Jesus has.
    I also think that it is here to show us as Christians how to act in the Lord’s Church, not adding unauthorized acts of worship to what is authorized by God or putting for foreign items in His Church.

  2. ozziepete

    Although my blog post discusses how we picture Jesus’ demeanor as he cleared the temple, my sermon actually took a different tack. I don’t believe that John intended these events to teach us about corporate worship. We’re really getting on shaky ground when we compare the temple to our church buildings. In fact, the NT itself makes the analogy much more personal by comparing our bodies and the temple. (1 Cor. 6:19)

    The problem wasn’t that these merchants were worshiping improperly, but that they weren’t worshiping at all! They were so busy making money and in the process they were actually preventing others from worshiping.

    With this in mind, the application I made was to ask what in our lives/temple prevents us, or others, from worshiping God? Are our attitudes Godly? Are our relationships Godly? Are we encouraging others in their Christian walk or cutting them down with criticism? Is serving God our priority or like the temple merchants, has he slipped down our list? Is there sin in our lives/temples that Jesus needs to cleanse so that we can worship God?

    I’m not suggesting that how we worship God when we’re together as a church is unimportant, but that if we’re not working on purifying our lives individually, our worship Sunday morning will be just going through the motions.

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