John 2:13-22 – Destroying the old temple for one new

Updated: Feb 3

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.


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This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the third Sunday in Lent, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, March 4, 2018. It is important as it is the first account of Jesus displaying anger at the disrespect that had befallen the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was constructed originally (by Solomon, then rebuilt) to be THE house of God on earth.


In Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48, less detailed accounts of Jesus becoming upset with the presences of vendors at the Temple are found. Matthew told how Jesus drove out “all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all then quote Jesus as saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” However similar that events seems, it is not the same as the one recounted by John.


I make that statement because I once sat at an Episcopalian Bible study meeting when a retired Methodist minister made the statement that John’s Gospel was the only one of the four Gospels that does not maintain the same order of events in the life of Jesus. I disagree wholeheartedly.  However, if that is some concept that has risen to explain John as a renegade or rebel, due to some (perhaps) thinking John had a scatterbrained memory, which affected the order of his Gospel of Jesus’ life and ministry, the facts do not support such a claim.


This reading is in John’s second chapter, which follows the wedding at Cana event (John 2:1-11). John’s first chapter ended with Jesus gathering Philip and Nathanael as disciples, to go along with Andrew and Simon (called Peter). John was the only Gospel writer not to tell of Jesus spending forty days of fasting in the wilderness, like the other three writers do. However, John said the same as the others, when he wrote, “After [the wedding at Cana Jesus] went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days” (John 2:12), which spoke of Jesus moving from Nazareth to Capernaum.  The other Gospels have the chronology of events; they simply recorded a second time that Jesus was witnessed being upset over vendors on the Temple steps.


It was in Capernaum that Jesus then called Andrew and Simon from their fishing boat and then called James and his brother John of Zebedee from their father’s boat, leaving him to fish the sea with hired hands. John did not write of this calling (an indication that John was not the same person as the brother of James, not a son of Zebedee); but his statement that Jesus, his mother, brothers and disciples only stayed in Capernaum a few days, that says the calling of disciples from Capernaum was to prepare them to go en masse to Jerusalem, for the Passover Festival.


I have had Bible study leaders instruct the participants that the Passover week’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem was not a yearly requirement of Jews. After the scattering of the tribes of Israel, following the fall of Israel and Judah, the “Jews” who were moved great distances from Jerusalem were only required to make a pilgrimage once a lifetime. The presumption is that Jews who relocated in Galilee after their freedom from Babylon were likewise freed of any obligation to go to the Temple in Jerusalem each year, because it took several days to walk there.


In my mind, this an American Christianization of ancient Judaism, where it becomes important to see the holy people surrounding Jesus as akin to Americans that forego church attendance, if there is some vacation planned [like multi-yearly pilgrimages to fun resorts, where one’s religion gets left at home].  I have watched priests rush to finish a service because it is NFL Sunday, and a local team’s game is soon to begin.  The sad thing I have realized is that American Christians tend to justify their lack of a desire to study their religious texts as if God had blessed them with a birthright as babies, and children’s church taught them everything they need to know personally.  Beyond that, priests and ministers are hired by the adult Christians, with the expectation they will know the details.


If that was the original plan, I wonder why Jesus did not call the hired hands from Zebedee’s boat?


In regard to this lack of religious knowledge, consider this: When one reads in the Gospel of Luke, “Now [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41), we are told this as an indication of the piety of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, his brothers. They went every year. Because it was written, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies” (Leviticus 23:2), devout Jews made a point of attending EVERY FESTIVAL … religiously. Knowing that, if any were to “Come and see” and “follow Jesus,” they were expected to plan their lives around obedience to God’s commandment to the Israelites, through Moses, which called for “sacred assemblies” in the appropriate places, to recognize “the appointed festivals.”


That understood, one can grasp just how swollen Jerusalem would become during those times of festival. In the Christmas story, where Joseph and Mary could not find a room at an inn, it was not due to census registration demands creating floods of people into Bethlehem. The inns were filled with paying guests because it was at a festival time, with pilgrims everywhere. Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem while they had a place to stay near Jerusalem for festival.  This means that everyone in the Jesus entourage would have to be housed while away from home.  That is a logistical reality.


Because the ministry of Jesus was just getting off the ground then, it makes perfect sense that prior arrangements had not been made for Andrew, Simon-Peter, James of Zebedee and his brother John, nor Philip and Nathanael. While Jesus, his mother, and his brothers had relatives with whom they would stay, who had homes near Jerusalem, the others would be free to find their place to housed. Thus, that first Passover of Jesus’ ministry placed himself and John (the Gospel writer, not of Zebedee) at the Temple together, while the six disciples were securing places to stay.  Thus, none of them wrote about this event.


In the turning over of the vendor’s tables recalled by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that was after Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey with her colt, when the pilgrims lined his path with palm branches and cried our “Hosanna, the King of the Jews.” For that festival event, an upstairs room had been secured for the Passover week, although there is indication the disciples were invited to visit where Jesus stayed, as they traveled together each day prior to the Passover Seder meal (the Last Supper), in and out of Jerusalem. John did not write of those days when Jesus was surrounded by his disciples, like he did when it was only him and Jesus entering the Temple of Jerusalem, when Jesus cleansed the Temple the first time.


The New American Standard Bible (NASB) heads this reading selection from John as “Frist Passover – Cleansing the Temple,” which indicates there is scholastic recognition for multiple events of this nature. John stated in his sixth chapter, fourth verse, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.” This was when Jesus fed the five thousand at the Sea of Galilee. By the time John began his seventh chapter, writing in the second verse, “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near,” that end of summer festival means John wrote nothing specific of Jesus having gone to Jerusalem for the second Passover of his ministry.


None of the other Gospels speak specifically of any Passover Festival, other than the last, which would be more of an indication that Jesus went to the Temple at other times without witnesses, when he could have made similar attacks on the selling of wares on the steps. One would think Jesus regularly confronted such things, rather than only occasionally making “photo ops” appearances.


What should be caught from the verse that states, “He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” is that Luke 2:22 & 24 state, “And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord … and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”


Because the sacrifice of animals was stated in Law (Exodus and Leviticus) as a necessary rite of purification, the people were required to take animals to the Temple priests for the sacrificial rites (not go to the Temple priests and hand them payment for sacrificial animals). The sale of doves was for the poor, but that really meant the poor travelers, who brought no animals with them from home, as home was too far away.


This means Jesus was not angered at the sale of animals for sacrifice. He was angered at the presence of those sellers within the Temple grounds. That presence within sacred boundaries was an indication that the Jews had become less devoted to the Laws and appreciated the marketplace meeting their needs of the commoners.  Common Jews suffered from forgetfulness, so they entered the Temple ground without the animals required.  Rather than their forgetfulness of Law causing them to lose their place in line, during busy Temple times, the Temple leaders allowed the marketplace to come into a place of convenience.


This anger should be seen as also being applicable to Christians and their churches, where I have read of megachurches are similarly desecrated places.  The equivalent can be seen as a ring of concession stands (coffee and pastries sales before service, then paninis after) around an auditorium, which has replaced a traditional nave and separate parish hall. Are not live bands on a stage (not an altar), with follow-the-bouncing-ball big screens (not hymnals), prompting people sitting in stadium seats with cup holders (rather than pews with prayer books) to sing along with dancing choirs, with the preacher reading sermon notes from a smart phone, pacing back and forth while a spotlight follows and lighting technicians change the coloring on stage to set the mood … all putting a “marketplace” in one’s face?


Is that circus atmosphere not selling entertainment as religion, in the same way cattle and sheep were sold back in the day?


Would you think passing a tray for money, rather than giving out free bread and dried fish from a basket, would anger Jesus today?


John writing, “His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me,” says either John or Jesus told this story to the disciples afterwards, causing them to remember Psalm 69, verse 9, which says, “for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” The acts of Jesus made them recall a song of lament, over shame felt by those who proclaimed faith falsely.


They had all walked right by the same vendors, doing nothing to force the vendors and wares sellers out to where they belonged. The disciples remember that quote from guilt.  Instead of marveling at the acts of Jesus, their hearts felt shame and regret for having done nothing themselves; and that is the kind of believers Satan loves.


John then said “his disciples remembered that he had said this … after he was raised from the dead.”  They remembered because Jesus had been raised from them, who had been dead of eternal life.  They remembered because the Spirit of the man who was there was within them … as them.


When John wrote that the Jews asked Jesus, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” they referred to his acts of disrespect for the merchants, their wares and the money they collected. They wanted to know how Jesus would miraculously (a viable replacement for “sign” in translation) replace a legal demand that devoted Jews had to present animals to priests, since most were pilgrims who did not come prepared to keep sacrificial animals with them outside the Temple grounds, until needed inside.


The double entendre is the Greek word for “sign,” “sēmeion,” also means “mark or token,” which is a form of payment for the sacrifices. Since this was Jesus’ first Passover as a priest of his Father, he was new to the “Jews” who ran Jerusalem. One could have seen the question they posed as rhetorical or tongue in cheek, half laughing at some young rabbi trying to make a name for himself.  Without knowing Jesus, they saw him as trying to change a very set world, which the Temple leaders were quite comfortable with; and that (in their mind) would require a miracle worker.


When Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he was in effect saying the brains of the Second Temple (its leaders, who allowed merchants on the steps) were destroying it. By referring to his personal destruction as being the final straw on that camel’s back, such that after being dead for three days a real temple that housed the LORD would be raised in its place, Jesus was saying the only Temple to the LORD is a human body. That would be the resurrected Jesus, but it would also be every Apostle who would be prepared to also be the resurrection of Jesus Christ within them.


As a personal Lenten lesson, as a test of one’s faith, everyone represents the brain trust that had let the Second Temple of Jerusalem become a marketplace for unscrupulous people, in need of being whipped by a cord and overturned. Because John pointed out that Jesus was talking about his body being the new Temple raised, the same can be inverted onto the destroyers of the Temple of Jerusalem, as the destroyers of their own souls, which were housed in cesspools of carelessness and sin.


If one is unprepared to pass the test of faith, then one will ask, “What miracle can you show me for doing this?” It seems easy to be told not to sin; but a serious seeker of Christ wants to be told how not to sin. Most are comfortable with continual sin being absolved by a Temple leader spilling the blood of an innocent animal (aka: priest, minister, pastor, or preacher).

The answer is the same that Jesus gave, as being reborn as Jesus Christ is the only way to survive forty days in the wilderness. One has to happily serve God as His Son to make it that long. The hard part is dying and being dead of ego for three days, so that one’s corrupted carcass can be cleansed, just as Jesus cleansed the Temple in anger. One cannot build a new self before the old self is destroyed.


The test of that readiness can then be seen in how one accepts the current state of buildings called churches and the organizations that run them. In this day and age (mostly out of desperation for survival or the lusts for the profitability of religion), churches have become political arms of the subversives who see the blindly religious as lambs fleeced for value or those who follow their leaders as voter blocs that can be led to worship political figures. The test is then the way one answers the question: How do you display your anger that a church has been or is being destroyed by the will of men and women?


The accompanying Old Testament reading comes from Exodus 20:1-17, which is also the reading for the Proper 22 [Pentecost Ordinary Time], in Year A. It is the first Ten Commandments that God sent Moses down for the Israelites to agree to follow. For any test in the wilderness to be personally passed, those laws (and all others) must be written in one’s heart. A deep love of God and subservience to Him brings that, through the marriage of God and a human as One.  Jesus Christ becomes the love child reborn.


This is a must to achieve, because love of God is not the same as love of Church.  Modern-day churches make Jesus appear as the eraser of Laws, not the enforcer. One must have evolved through the Holy Spirit to live a life centered within the Laws, out of desire, not command.  That devotion survives all tests.


In the accompanying Epistle reading that comes from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Paul quoted Isaiah, saying, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” That quote comes from Isaiah 29:14. One has to see the parallel of that quote and the “wise” [brain trust] that knows organizational and profitable things, but is incapable of discerning the truth of the words that tell of Jesus being destroyed by a cross, dead for three days.


There are no “signs” or “miracles” or “tokens” that can save a Church from a willful destruction, as the only “miracle” comes when one becomes a reborn Jesus Christ. To pass a personal wilderness test, one has to be resurrected, not perishing, as denial through personal will power (the intelligence of a brain) will fail miserably.


One has to be able to see the anger that Jesus holds for anyone who claims to be the house of the LORD, when one is doing little more than marketing oneself as marked for heaven. One has to be turned upside down and see all of one’s beloved money cast onto the ground, with the voice of God telling one to “get your sacrificial trinkets out of here!”


If one has not felt that fear of God within one’s head, then one is not prepared to pass a personal test of Lent.

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