John 2 - The Cleansing of the Temple

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John 2 - The Cleansing of the Temple

John 2:13 – 22


This account of Jesus cleansing the temple is in the other 3 gospels and John gives a much more detailed account of this i.e. the details of him crafting the whip with cord. Other differences include theme, content, time duration, order of events and style.

It is my view that John is written for Christians in general rather than say Matthew which was for the Jewish nation.

Some interesting points to note here are some see this as happening 2 years before Christs death or right before his crucifixion and some commentators see the version in John as a separate event than the ones spoke about in the other gospels.

The events here took place on the Feast of Explain ‘feasts of Ioudaioi as in;

John 5:1 - After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.


The Ioudaioi were the Jewish ruling elite (In charge of Jewish customs) and `members of the tribe of Judah'' as opposed to members of other tribes of Israel. They were Judeans as opposed to, say, Galileans or Samaritans and most importantly they were Jews as opposed to adherents of other religions.

  • Festival being celebrated here is Passover or Pesach and was similar to a pilgrimage

  • Passover associated with liberation from oppression and divine salvation by God.


What was being celebrated - Passover

There would have been nearly 2 million Jewish people amassing on Jerusalem for the Passover in the book of Exodus where Moses wanted to take his people out of from slavery from the Egyptian as in Exodus 12:22-27. His was the final plague from God and involved the death of the firstborn. As a mark of protection, the Israelites were told to mark their doorpost the blood of a lamb with the herb hyssop which has disinfectant qualities. It embodies the theme of spiritual cleansing as with David in;

Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


It was also used to dip into sour wine i.e. vinegar to give Jesus to drink on the cross as in; John 19: 29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.


Again, there is the theme of cleansing as Christ died so that we might be clean and acceptable in his Fathers sight.


Analogies to Food

Probably the most significant observance as part of the Passover festival involves the removal of chametz (leavened bread) from homes and property.

Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. The removal of “chametz” commemorates the fact that the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the “puffiness” (arrogance, pride) from our souls in other words the sin.

The grain product eaten during Passover in place of chametz is called matzah. Matzah is unleavened bread made simply from flour and water and cooked very quickly. This is traditionally viewed as the bread that the Jews made for their flight from Egypt.

[N.B. Matzah in Hebrew is also referred to as “Lechem Oni” ("Bread of Affliction").]

As David Guzik notes – “Remember that cleansing was part of the Passover celebration. Removing every speck of anything leavened (made with yeast) from the home was a symbol, a picture, of cleansing from sin

The analogy here is Jesus was about to cleanse the temple as per the purpose of the Jewish festival and to remove sin from it.


The Second Temple

To put into perspective here the festival let’s look at the temple comparison with the old Solomon’s one and the new one built by Herod because here lies something important

Herod changed temple structure on the re-building of it and based its design on a pagan mind-set in its construction and what could be seen as similar to Roman and Greek temple. It was only finished in AD66 when 4 years later it was destroyed by the Roman purge in AD70. What is interesting is the temple was still being built at the time of Jesus life and this incident and continued after his death and resurrection.

One of the main areas of contention were the Vendors in extra Portico’s and these were like retail alcoves where space was designated for market vendors and devalued the sanctity of the temple as a whole. We are not told what the vendors themselves were selling in totality but from scripture we know they were selling livestock and exchanging money. Money changers themselves were allowed in the temple as there was a need for the temple tax to be collected and is written about;

Deuteronomy 14:24-26- 24. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 

25. then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 

26. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.

In order to pay the temple tax, there needed to be special coins and the coins themselves had pagan imagery on them as it had to be converted into a special temple coin which was called the Tyrrian Shekel. In addition, there was a commission to be paid called a ‘Kolbon’.


What was Christ angry about?

Jesus was angry about a number of things and I have mentioned five key ones here;

  1. The Abuse of his Father’s house – it was called the house of Prayer and was referred to in the millennial temple at the time of Christs next coming;    

   Isaiah 56:7 - Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be   

   accepted on My altar;


    2. He was angry at the monopolistic practices which were done i.e. the vendors were taking advantage of the people’s desire to offer sacrifices to his   

    Father and their God and it was important to them to do so hence they were taking advantage of man’s desire to please their maker and follow the

    Torah. On top of this they were making monopolistic profits and a definition of a monopoly is “Monopolies are thus characterized by a lack of     

     economic competition to produce the good or service, a lack of viable substitute goods, and the possibility of a high monopoly price well     

     above the firm's marginal cost that leads to a high monopoly profit”. The vendors were taking advantage of their position to sell the animals as 

     many animals would not survive the long journey from people’s homes to the Passover destination of Jerusalem.

    3. Jesus called their occupation of the temple as a “Den of Thieves” the same as

     Jeremiah 7:11 - Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord.

     In other words, a den is where an animal can call its home and feels safe.

     4. Jesus was also concerned about the example the Jewish people were being to the gentiles as it says in;

      Romans 2:17-19 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

      18.And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

      19.And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,


      And is also spoke of it in the OT where the gentiles would have felt they were being ripped off;

      Isaiah 49:6 And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will           

      also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.


      5. Merchants themselves are also discussed in;

      Zechariah 14:21- Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the Lord of hosts. Everyone who sacrifices shall come and take them and

      cook in them. In that day there shall no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.

      The relevance here, is Jesus is talking about in Messianic times when Christ will reign when there will no longer be a merchant (Canaanite) in the

       House of the Lord.


What did Jesus do?

Firstly, he made a whip (it is worth noting it is only mentioned here in John in verse 15!). The whip is actually a scourge and is called a whip of cords and it was used by the Roman’s as a lash in a public punishment. It was also used for cattle tying. What we can see was there was a methodical approach in its construction similar to the process of braiding hair (The Greek word is ‘phrag-ellian’). We are not told if Christ used the whip on people or the animals as it is his display of his heavenly authority that is important in this chapter and it is clear he created unease and removed the objects of offense.


What were the re-percussions for Jesus?

As a result of this incident Jesus cards were marked by the Levitical authorities and he was singled out for a dire fate”. This action in the temple upset the chief priests as they saw Jesus’ actions as a threat to the temple. In effect Jesus was calling the temple his Father’s house and he was upset at the people mocking holiness of it. Jesus loved the Torah and wanted others to follow it he never denounced the Jewish law (Like Adulterous woman) and never said rescind or stop obeying the law. Priests were using their own religious ideology and not the truth. Jesus wanted others to share in his zeal for the law and his Father unlike the Sanhedrin and within this story he destroyed their authority and would not answer to them. In effect and he took away their position and he would not allow them to deface the purpose of his Father’s house.

In the version told by Matthew, Jesus quotes Psalm 8 when the priests were asking him why the children were crying out in the temple as they recognised him as God. Hence the religious leaders were looking for a way to destroy him also discussed in the book of Mark. Mark 11:18 - And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.


Dual meanings

Within this chapter, there are lots of dual meanings of the scriptures and the two main one’s worth noting are;

Firstly, the dual meaning in verse 17 as per;

Psalm 69:9: For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.

Some definitions of Zeal are passion, enthusiasm, devotion, love.  The zeal here is similar to David’s zeal for Gods temple and it was uncompromising. It is the opposite of the compromises of the Sanhedrin to allow the temple to be used for fraudulent retail activities. This zeal will consume him and ultimately it will have Jesus arrested, beaten beyond recognition and crucified sometime later.

Secondly, the other important dual is in verse 19 where Jesus talks about the temple being destroyed in 3 days. He was referring to his own body (body is a temple reference) where in three days he will rise from the dead and he was talking about their attempt to destroy his body and they would not succeed. The leaders missed the point, and they were talking about physical rather than spiritual matters and what is known as the letter of the Torah rather than the spirit of the Torah. It is interesting that many Jewish writers see themselves see as a result of the religious authorities sinning the 2nd temple was destroyed by soldiers working under Titus of Rome i.e. as divine punishment of physical rather than the spiritual but they see it as God himself destroying the temple as punishment

To finalise this point, Jesus words were used against him in front of Pilate and the priests when he was arrested;

Matthew 26:61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.


Jesus the Revolutionary?

Some people see this chapter as Jesus as a revolutionary and about this time in Israel there were a group of Jewish revolutionaries called Zealots who saw strict adherence to Jewish law and resorted to killing people. The disciple Simon was a zealot and their name in Latin was Sicarii and were also known as ‘cut throats’ or ‘assassins ‘. They believed would take Jerusalem and Israel back from the Romans by force. Later on, in AD66 their revolt quest began end resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Jesus wanted a peaceful revolution inside people’s hearts and Christ renounced violence when he said to bless the peacemakers and love thine enemies. This is reinforced when Peter carried a struck the soldier sent to arrest Christ and says he who lives by the sword will die by it. Jesus healed the soldier’s ear who to arrest him he was against violence.

Further proof of this is when he encouraged his disciples to leave Jerusalem and not join any battle against the state as in Matthew 24: 15-22

It makes us question whether Christians should be involved in violent movements to overthrow the system and I believe we shouldn’t and we should pray for those in positions of authority and peacefully demonstrate  and respect authority as Jesus did in

Luke 23:2 - And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”


Final point

Main point here is Jesus is our Passover as he is our cleansing…

As David Guzik says “John began with a miracle of conversion (changing water into wine). Then he showed Jesus performing a work of cleansing (the cleansing of the temple). This is always how Jesus works in His people: conversion first, then cleansing

His blood gave us redemption and he is our salvation and like the sacrificial lamb he had to spotless and blemish free. God wants a circumcision of the heart not your flesh or sacrifices.

Romans 2:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.