John 2: 13 – 17 Jesus clears the temple courts
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle: he scattered the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ (John 2: 13 – 17)
The Jewish religion was based around the Law, which specified the things you were not allowed to do. Pretty much every infringement of the Law required the sinner to make a sacrifice of an unblemished animal or a bird. (You’ll find much of it specified in Deuteronomy)
St John tells us that it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, which was a celebration of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. Devout Jews would come to Jerusalem from just about everywhere in the world. The city would have been packed with pilgrims, and almost all of them would have wanted to offer a sacrifice. It would have been difficult for those with a long journey to bring a live animal for sacrifice, and a market had grown up to satisfy the need for suitable animals. Travellers would also have needed local currency to pay temple taxes, and, naturally enough, there were money-changers to service that need.
By the time of Jesus, the animal sellers and money-changers were established inside the outer courts of the temple. It would have been noisy, smelly, crowded and not at all conducive to worship.
I still find myself startled by the violence of Jesus’ response. He literally used a whip to drive out the traders from the temple. Now, I’ve heard it suggested that the market grossly overcharged the pilgrims – and maybe it did – but is that the reason for Jesus’ anger? I don’t think so. St John reports that Jesus said to those selling doves ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’
‘Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’
That was the reason for Jesus’ anger. Despite the good reasons for the market, it was a secular intrusion into the sacred. The traders were focussed on making money, not on serving God.
St John makes two more important points. The first is in verse 16, where Jesus says ‘Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ Jesus claims that God is his father; he is the son of God.
The second is in verse 17 ‘His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
Jesus’ disciples were present. They witnessed the dramatic event and reflected on it. They heard Jesus claim that God was his father, and they saw him drive out the market from the temple courts.
Are there lessons for me in the present day?
I guess the obvious one is that worship and prayer must be done with a pure heart or they’re worse than useless. They must arise from our desire to seek God. That’s not to say we need to be perfect, or even ‘good’. All we need is the willingness to place our trust in Jesus. God can, and will, work with even a tiny bit of faith, nurturing it and helping it to grow.
The other lesson with which I personally have to wrestle is that Jesus was not always gentle. I believe absolutely in the primacy of love, and I find it difficult to come to terms with religious violence. And yet St John says that Jesus did this, and his actions were witnessed by his disciples.
Heavenly Father, Thank you for the truths you reveal through the bible. Please help me to understand and accept what you are teaching me in this passage. In Jesus name, Amen.