April 1, 2011

Jesus and the Moneychangers: John 2:13-22

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. 15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. 16 And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" 17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up." 18 So the Jews answered and said to Him, "What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" 19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

The events of John 2 come shortly after Jesus performed His first miracle at the wedding in Cana, Jesus had traveled with His Disciples and family to Capernaum, about 15 miles from Cana, and then 80 miles further south to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration.

We often think of the meek and lowly Jesus—the one who loves us, speaks for us to the Father, and who died to take the punishment we deserved for our sinfulness. By contrast, we don’t so often think of the Jesus who was occasionally consumed with anger over people’s disrespect for God the Father

This is the first occasion when Jesus showed His anger at the way the religious leaders and merchants had turned the worship of God into the opportunity for great profit.

The importance of Passover

“Passover” was the most important religious feast for the Israelites. To prepare for Passover, the Israelites would repair the roads for the great influx of people, whitewash the tombs so nobody would accidentally touch them & defile themselves, clean their homes and all cooking utensils, remove any leaven found in the home, and prepared their homes to house guests. From all over Israel, people descended on Jerusalem for the Passover observance, and since there were too-few inns to house travelers, people were expected to show hospitality and house travelers in their homes during the Passover week.

Passover was the occasion when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Jews from all over would come to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their offerings of a sheep, ox or dove. The animals would be sacrificed in the Temple: the fat would be burned, and the blood would be offered on the altar. The meat would be taken home, and roasted, and eaten by the family.

It was at this time that the people also were expected to pay the temple tax of a silver ½ shekel coin. Passover was a special time of worship, both in the Temple, and in the home. Families would observe the Passover Meal as a solemn reminder of the time when God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. (And three years later Jesus would eat the Passover meal with His disciples just before His crucifixion.)

Passover was the biggest holiday of the year, sort of like Christmas in the western world.

Passover had become big business!

And much like the observance of Christmas in our western culture, there was a lot of commercial activity surrounding the gathering of the Jews in Jerusalem for Passover. Some of that commercial activity took place at the Temple itself, where merchants sold oxen, sheep, and doves for sacrifice and exchanged currency.

On the surface, this practice seemed sound. It was inconvenient for many people to bring oxen and sheep with them on their journey to Jerusalem, so they just made it a practice to buy their sacrificial animal in Jerusalem.

But what went on outside the Temple was more than that. By the time of Jesus, the priests in the Temple cooperated with the merchants and would not accept animals for sacrifice unless they had been purchased at the Temple. The practice was so blatant and profit-oriented that we can surmise that the merchants paid the priests for the right to sell animals on the Temple grounds for Passover sacrifices. What started as an accommodation to travelers evolved into a profitable business that exploited worshippers who had come to celebrate the Passover.

The Jews also had to exchange the money they carried in order to pay the Temple tax. This was the moneychangers’ job—to exchange the money that the people brought for the special silver ½ shekel for the Temple tax. The people couldn’t use just any coin for the Temple tax. People came from all over the world, and some of the coins had the impression of heathen gods or Caesar. It was considered blasphemy to offer a coin with the image of a heathen, for the service of God’s Temple. The moneychangers would exchange their coins for a special silver Temple coin, and make a huge profit in the transaction. No other currency was accepted by the priests for the Temple tax.

So we see that the Temple had become a place of business—a place to profit from people seeking to perform acts of worship. The selling of sacrificial animals and exchange of currency took place in the outer Court of the Temple, also called the Court of the Gentiles. Everyone, including Gentiles was permitted in the outer court, and this is where the business of selling animals and changing money was conducted.

This was what you might call the least holy part of the Temple area—set aside as the place for those who had converted to Judiasm, rather than being born an Israelite. The outer court of the Temple area was considered the only part of the Temple area for Gentiles who had converted. They were looked down on as a sort of lower class of Israelite.

This area was considered all right for the business of selling animals and exchanging money, but this could not be done in the inner courts. (There was another court for women, another for Jews men, and the inner Temple area, where only the priests went and which housed the Holy of Holies and the Ark.)

So Passover had become something like Christmas in the western cultures. Instead of the simple quiet observance of a very important act of God, it was a celebration—a party, we might say—and its principle activity was for the priests, the merchants, and the moneychangers to make a profit.

From history, we know that:

Annas, the High Priest had sold franchises for the concession stands to the various merchants and money-changers. These went to the highest bidder.

The merchants charged inflated prices for the oxen, sheep & doves. These animals were deemed perfect.

And those were the only perfect animals for sacrifice. If you brought your own oxen, sheep, or dove, the Priests would examine it and then tell you that it was unclean. So you had to surrender your unclean animal and purchase one of their “clean” animals. Then, they would turn around and sell your “unclean” animal to someone else as a “clean” animal.

The money-changers would cheat the people by charging an unfair exchange rate for their foreign coins.

Jesus was angry when He saw what was happening

While He was walking around, observing the chaos, Jesus probably picked up some of the leather cords that were laying around … used to tie up the animals. While He was walking, He must have been tying them together into a small whip.

He was angry. This wasn’t the way God’s house was supposed to be treated. We also should note that before Jesus was crucified, He went into Jerusalem … and again He found His Father’s house being desecrated at the time of the Passover celebration. He cleaned it out again. (See Matthew 21:12-13.)

John remembers a prophecy when he saw Jesus clearing the courtyard of the merchants and moneychangers (John 2:17 “Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’”). This is a quote from Psalm 69:9. Psalm 69 is a Messianic Psalm that prophesies about the coming Messiah. When Jesus cleansed the Temple, He was showing them that He was truly the Messiah sent from God. John was reminding his readers that Jesus is the Messiah; the disciples must have been reminded of this Psalm at the time, and John wanted his readers to know that.

2:18 – The Jewish religious leaders wanted to know: “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?" In other words, the religious leaders wanted Jesus to prove He had the authority to call the Temple His Father’s house.

Jesus answers further confused the Jewish religious leaders: “19 Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 Then the Jews said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” To the Jews, this was ridiculous. How could Jesus build the temple just 3 days when it had taken nearly 50 years to build the temple where they were standing?

By the way, this was the charge that they used against Jesus to crucify Him. See Matthew 26:59-61; (notice how the false witnesses twisted His words. They also used this to ridicule Him while He hung on the cross; see Matthew 27:40.)

The bottom line was that they had desecrated God’s Temple … God would raise up a different way of worshipping … worship centered not on a stone-and-mortar temple, but centered on Jesus. They came to the Temple to offer their sacrifices. God would sacrifice His Son Jesus, so there would be no more need of a Temple. And with the resurrection of Jesus, God raised up a new Temple in just 3 days.

Even His followers were confused until after Jesus’ resurrection. Verse 22 tells us “Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.”

Nobody got it … until after the resurrection. His followers probably commented to each other, “So, this is what Jesus meant!” It’s ironic, that the disciples didn’t really comprehend what Jesus said until after the resurrection.

How should this passage impact us?

Jesus wants a clean temple, and He’s not talking about our church building. Jesus was talking not only about His own body and its resurrection, but also His body to come, the church.

The New Testament uses the term body in different ways. (1) It is His body that was sacrificed for us. (2) We are the body of Christ. (3) We are not to defile our bodies because we are counted as holy—physically and spiritually—by God.

There is a direct connection between our bodies and the Temple, also. And that is that our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 7:19). Before Jesus came to earth, the Temple in Jerusalem was the place where God’s presence on earth was represented (in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple). Since His ascension into heaven, the bodies of Christians have been the place where the Holy Spirit dwells—the new Temple of God.

As Jesus presented His body as the sacrifice for all time, so we are called on to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice—holy and acceptable to God. Paul described the implications clearly in Romans 12:1-2: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

We are to be different. We are to be conformed to Christ and not to the world.

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