Cleansing of the Temple

Posted by Thaddaeus

John 2: 13-25


Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.  He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."  His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.  At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"  Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."  The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?"  But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.  While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing.  But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.  He himself understood it well.


Background: The incident of The Cleansing of the Temple is recorded in all four Gospels.  Chronologically, the Synoptic Gospels place the incident during the Passover of the Passion, while John places it, at least, two years earlier.  There is a contradiction.  Who’s right?  There are two possible explanations:   Some believe that Jesus cleanses the Temple on two separate occasions.  Others explain that it is the very same event only that John is making a different theological point.  From extra-biblical sources, we know that Herod the Great begins renovating the Temple in 19 or 20 BCE.  The passage says that the Temple has been under construction for forty-six years.  The dates tie more easily with the earlier period of Jesus’ ministry.  Conversely, Jesus moves to Galilee after the arrest of John the Baptist in order to avoid a similar fate; so, it seems less likely that He would want to call attention to Himself at this stage.


The Cleansing of the Temple:  Let’s assume that John is making a different theological point.  What point might that be?  In John, The Cleansing of the Temple narrative is sandwiched between The Wedding Feast at Cana and Nicodemus’ Visit with Jesus.  There John is referring to the blood, the water and the spirit.  These are the signs of the New Covenant that supersede the Old.  Oxen, sheep and doves: are old sacrificial offerings.  Doves are offerings of the poor.  The money changers: extorted Israel through inflated rates of exchange for sacrificial animals and the annual Temple tax.  Every Jewish male over age nineteen has to pay a Temple tax with a half-shekel coin in Syrian currency for upkeep of the Temple.  Moneychangers set up in the outer court.  Gentiles cannot go beyond the outer court.  Theologically, Jesus expels the moneychangers with the whip of His divine doctrine to make spiritual worship possible.