“Soar Like Eagles” The Gospel of John #3 “Zeal For My House!” John 2:12-25

12 Jan

0ee131c050c4792d6ad5b3a3eee48d87Getting between God and the worshiper a good reason for anger

The text of this study, John 2:12-22, allows us to watch Jesus in another setting. This time it is at a place which is larger, more intimidating, and more impersonal than the wedding scene in Cana. This passage takes us to the temple in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith and the place where Jesus would later be sentenced to crucifixion.

Watching and listening to Jesus in this hostile setting allows us to see yet another side of the one who claimed to be the Son of  God. What we see in this text will allow us all to know Jesus better than we did before.

The focus of this incident is on the temple and its corruption as much as it is on Jesus and His person.

“After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.”

The “temple” of our text is the temple in Jerusalem. It was not the first temple, built by Solomon (see 1 Kings 6-7), nor the second temple, rebuilt by the Jews returning from their Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6:15). It was the third temple, known as “Herod’s Temple.”

In His early infancy, Jesus had been taken to the temple in Jerusalem for His purification, and there both Simeon and Anna worshipped Him as the promised Messiah (Luke 2:21-38). When our Lord was 12 years of age, He accompanied His parents to Jerusalem, where He absolutely amazed them and others.

Our Lord’s parents certainly found Jesus a model child, a young man whom they could trust. They felt no need to check on Him, and as they were traveling in a caravan, they didn’t even miss Him on their return from Jerusalem. Eventually, they realized He was not with them and made their way back to Jerusalem, where they found Him in the temple.

There He was, sitting in the midst of the Old Testament scholars, not only asking intelligent questions, but giving answers to their questions The scholars were amazed, and most certainly so were our Lord’s parents.

Nevertheless, Jesus caused them considerable inconvenience by not telling them He was staying behind. His absence caused them to leave the caravan of worshippers and return to Jerusalem, a day’s journey away. There was certainly a hint of frustration in their rebuke when they scolded Him for staying behind, but Jesus was not taken aback. He was surprised they had to look for Him. Did they not know where He would be? Did they think it was wrong for Him to be there? He was in His Father’s house, doing “His Father’s business” (verse 49).

It was not He who was wrong, but they, for not seeing this situation for what it was. Even at the age of 12, our Lord had a good grasp of who He was and what He was sent to do. The “temple” Jesus visited in Luke 2 was the kind of place it should have been, a place to worship God and to study His Word. The “temple” Jesus finds nearly 20 years later seems to have greatly changed, and thus the need for its cleansing.

One may wonder about John’s reasons for including this verse. John is not a man to waste time or space. His words are carefully selected (John 20:30-31; 21:25). Why then does he include them? One reason is that we know Capernaum will become our Lord’s headquarters for His ministry. His family appears to have relocated there.

It is where the centurion (and others—see John 6:24) come to find Jesus, to plead with Him to heal his servant (Matthew 8:5-13). Capernaum is deemed worthy of greater condemnation, because the people of this city have seen more of our Lord and His miracles (Matthew 11:23; see Luke 4:23). Another reason is that this seems to have been our Lord’s final stay with His family. His “family” is about to change (see Mark 3:31-35).

John wants us to see these events as closely following one upon the other. He is maintaining a rather precise account of the timing of the crucial events at the outset of our Lord’s ministry. John therefore describes the first few days of our Lord’s public ministry in chapter 1 and the first 11 verses of chapter 2. Then, he tells us that after the wedding, Jesus, His disciples, and His family make their way down to Capernaum.

There were at least three reasons why Jesus acted as he did, and why anger was in his heart.

(i)  He acted as he did because God’s house was being desecrated.  In the Temple there was worship without reverence.  Reverence is an instinctive thing.

Worship without reverence can be a terrible thing.  It may be worship which is formalized and pushed through anyhow; the most dignified prayers on earth can be read like a passage from an auctioneer’s catalogue.  It may be worship which does not realize the holiness of God.

It may be worship in which leader or congregation are completely unprepared.  It may be the use of the house of God for purposes and in a way where reverence and the true function of God’s house are forgotten.  In that court of God’s house at Jerusalem there would be arguments about prices, disputes about coins that were worn and thin, the clatter of the market place.  That particular form of irreverence may not be common now, but there are other ways of offering an irreverent worship to God.

(ii)  Jesus acted as he did in order to show that the whole paraphernalia of animal sacrifice was completely irrelevant.  For centuries the prophets had been saying exactly that.

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?  says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. . . .  Bring no more vain offerings” (Isaiah 1:11-17). 

“For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jeremiah 7:22). 

“With their flocks and herds they shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6). 

“They love sacrifice; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them” (Hosea 8:13). 

There was a chorus of prophetic voices telling men of the sheer irrelevancy of the burnt offerings and the animal sacrifices which smoked continuously upon the altar at Jerusalem.  Jesus acted as he did to show that no sacrifice of any animal can ever put a man right with God.

We are not totally free from this very tendency today.  True, we will not offer animal sacrifice to God.  But we can identify his service with the installation of stained glass windows, the lavishing of money on stone and lime and carved wood, while real worship is far away.

It is not that these things are to be condemned-far from it.  They are often-thank God-the lovely offerings of the loving heart.  When they are aids to true devotion they are God-blessed things; but when they are substitutes for true devotion they make God sick at heart.

“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.”

The Jewish Passover celebration commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, when the death angel passed over every home where the first Passover was observed and the blood of the paschal lamb was placed on the two door posts and the lintel (see Exodus 12 and 13). The celebration of the Passover also commenced the Feast of Unleavened bread, so that the entire Passover celebration took a week.

Attendance for adult Israelite males was compulsory: Every male Jew, from the age of twelve and up, was expected to attend the Passover at Jerusalem, a feast celebrated to commemorate the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egyptian bondage. On the tenth of the month Abib or Nisan (which generally corresponds to our March, though its closing days sometimes extend into our April) a male lamb, of the first year, without blemish, was taken, and on the fourteenth day, between three and six o’clock in the afternoon, it was killed.[1]

It is very difficult to imagine the scene that our Lord’s eyes fall upon as He enters Jerusalem and approaches the temple. We know from the scene at Pentecost, described in Acts 2, that a great many people thronged to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, as they also did to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Feast of Pentecost (or, the Feast of Weeks).

It is very difficult to estimate the influx of people to Jerusalem, not only from other parts of Israel, but from all over the world (see Acts 2:5-12). These Jews and proselytes would have to pay the half-shekel temple tax in the coinage of the temple, and thus foreign monies were unacceptable and had to be exchanged for the proper coins. These worshippers also had to offer up their sacrifices, and for many of these travelers, the only solution was to buy a sacrificial animal there in Jerusalem.

In days gone by, they would have been able to purchase these animals and exchange their money in a place outside the temple courts: “At one time the animal merchants set up their stalls across the Kidron Valley on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, but at this point they were in the temple courts, doubtless in the Court of the Gentiles (the outermost court).”[2] For some reason, the animals have now been brought into the temple courts. It is certainly more “convenient.” People can purchase their sacrificial animals right at the temple, and they can also exchange their money. It is very difficult to believe that this is the real reason this is done, however.

It is true, in the abstract, that each worshipper was allowed to bring to the temple an animal of his own selection. But let him try it! In all likelihood it would not be approved by the judges, the privileged venders who filled the money-chests of Annas! Hence, to save trouble and disappointment, animals for sacrifice were bought right here in the outer court, which was called the court of the Gentiles because they were permitted to enter it. Of course, the dealers in cattle and sheep would be tempted to charge exorbitant prices for such animals. They would exploit the worshippers. And those who sold pigeons would do likewise, charging, perhaps, $4 for a pair of doves worth a nickel (A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, New York, 1897, vol. I, p. 370). And then there were the money-changers, sitting cross-legged behind their little coin-covered tables. They gave the worshipper lawful, Jewish coin in exchange for foreign currency. It must be borne in mind that only Jewish coins were allowed to be offered in the temple, and every worshipper—women, slaves, and minors excepted—had to pay the annual temple tribute of half a shekel (cf. Ex. 30:13). The money-changers would charge a certain fee for every exchange-transaction. Here, too, there were abundant opportunities for deception and abuse. And in view of these conditions the Holy Temple, intended as a house of prayer for all people, had become a den of robbers (cf. Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11; Mark 11:17).[3]

The view represented here is one commonly accepted by students of the New Testament Gospels. Those who attempted to bring their own sacrificial animals may very well have had them “rejected” by the temple priests, and thereby were forced to purchase “approved” animals at much higher prices. The same gouging no doubt took place at the money-exchangers’ tables.

I doubt very much that our Lord later called the temple a “robbers’ den” (Mark 11:17) without having such corruption in mind. In our text, however, John does not focus on the way in which these merchandisers go about their business, but rather on where they are conducting their business—in the temple courts.

Mark’s Gospel seems to take up this theme as well, pointing out that “where” these businessmen are doing business interferes with an essential purpose of the temple. The temple was to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17).

The outer courts of the temple are the only places where Gentiles could worship. They are not allowed to pass beyond a certain point (see Acts 21:27-30). If the outer courts are filled with oxen and lambs and doves, there is no place for the Gentiles to pray and to worship God.

Can you imagine trying to pray in the midst of a virtual stockyard, with all the noises of the animals and the bickering businessmen? Can you conceive of trying to squeeze in between cattle who are tied up in the courts? Think of what it would be like to have to watch where you walked, lest you step in something undesirable?[4] It appears that Gentile worship is functionally prohibited, and I doubt this troubled many of the Jews, who are not all that excited about including the Gentiles in their worship in the first place.

What Jesus sees going on in the temple courts troubles Him a great deal! The place of prayer has become a place of profit-taking. It sounds more like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange than the outer courts of the temple of God. It smells more like a barnyard than the place where one would seek God’s presence.[5] Jesus enters the outer court of the temple, fashioning a whip from materials at hand (probably from the cords used to tie up the animals). He then drives them all out of the temple area. By the word “all,” I understand Him to have driven out not only the animals, but also those who are selling them as well. The coins of the moneychangers are poured out and scattered on the ground and their tables overturned. To those selling the doves, Jesus says, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace![6]

Several things catch my attention in these two verses. The first is that this Messianic Psalm speaks of the alienation of the Messiah from his “mother’s children.” Could this be part of the reason for John’s mention of the brief family gathering in Capernaum (John 2:12)? Our Lord’s mother is not mentioned again until the cross, and the reference to our Lord’s “brothers” in John 7:3-5 reveals their skepticism about Jesus and His ministry. Has Jesus already begun to feel alienated from His own brothers?

In addition, you will notice that in Psalm 69:9 David writes in the past tense: “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up.” There are some differences in the Greek texts of John, so that the KJV and the NKJV employ the past tense: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” As a rule, the other versions render it in the future tense, following what appear to be the best Greek texts.[7] I like the way the New English Bible renders it best:

“Zeal for thy house shall destroy me.”

When Jesus walked into the temple, He saw what was going on differently than everyone else there.

“So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. {16} To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Jesus revealed His zeal for God first of all by cleaning the temple. The tragedy, of course, is that the business being conducted was in the court of Gentiles, the place where the Jews should have been meeting the Gentiles and telling them about the true God. Any Gentile searching for truth would not likely find it among the religious leaders in the temple.

Jesus had come to assert the claims of God upon His own nation, and He felt keenly the spiritual indifference which had turned worship into a means of profit!  His act presupposed authority as the representative of God. His resurrection would be the chief proof of His ministry!

Jesus was careful not to destroy anyone’s property (He did not release the doves, for instance); but He made it clear that He was in command.

How is it that Jesus got away with this when he is so totally outnumbered? There may be several explanations:

  • Even in his incarnate state, Jesus’ purity and passion were divine. That, in itself, is intimidating.
  • The money changers are hirelings. They run in the face of danger. Besides, some of them likely have a deep sense of guilt about what they are doing—they know it is not right.
  • The people must have been cheering as Jesus turned over tables and spilled change all over the floor. It was a popular move and in his angry zeal the people would no doubt support him.
  • There is a Roman garrison watching the proceedings of the feast from the Tower of Antonia. Jesus has already captured their attention. The last thing the Sadducees want to do is to fan it into flame. They could lose their positions and possibly even their lives. These are perilous times. People are looking for a savior and are willing to fight if they find one.

The temple (church) can be abused by…

  • forgetting what worship is all about and putting something between the worshipper and God.
  • misusing the facilities and buildings of God’s house.
  • ignoring God’s holiness and forgetting one’s duty to reverence God.
  • allowing questionable, non-worshipful activities.

He says to them “Stop making my Father’s house a house of commerce.” John weaves into the narrative his own commentary in v. 17. The disciples remember Psalm 69:9a, “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

That is an interesting quotation for several reasons.

First, Psalm 69 is Messianic (cf. v. 21). This is part of their very early understanding of Jesus.

Second, the word “consume” is literally “eaten up.” This verse does not merely mean to suggest that Jesus had a driving passion for the temple. In its original context it is a cry of pain and desperation. Like David, Jesus’ passion for God is going to get him into trouble.

Third, the verb tense of this word “consume” has been changed from the past in the LXX to the future here in John.

Historically, as David wrote Psalm 69, he had already experienced suffering because of his zeal for God. Jesus, however, was looking for it in the future. Even now, he was challenging the authority of both the High Priest and the Procurator, both of whom claimed control of the central bank of the temple.

The condition of the temple was a vivid indication of the spiritual condition of the nation. Their religion was a dull routine, presided over by worldly minded men whose main desire was to exercise authority and get rich.

This was the beginning of a struggle that continued for three years. The rulers hardly let it rest for a moment from this time forth!

When Matthew, Mark, and Luke related the story of the cleansing of the temple, they indicated that Jesus objected to the way the merchants had made the temple a “robbers’ den,” indicating that Jesus was angry about dishonest business.

John, however, indicated that Jesus was objecting to the presence of any business in the temple. The temple was designed as a house of prayer, a place where people from all nations could come and worship God.

What Jesus saw looked more like an emporium or a marketplace than a spiritual retreat. He must have been impressive, even frightening, as He took control of the situation and ran the merchants and the animals out of the temple.

Anger as a way of life is condemned by both Jesus and Paul; but Jesus, on occasion, did become angry–and was able to do so without sinning.”

   What is the difference between these two types of anger? One apparently is anger that springs from human pettiness, insecurity, or frustration. Godly anger, on the other hand, is anger that arises when people are being hurt or kept from God by the actions of others.

Jesus saw that the transactions in the temple were keeping people away from God, and that could not be tolerated!

Periodically, we all need to be reminded to leave business outside our church assemblies so that everyone can worship unhindered.

In our lives, the major application of Jesus’ behavior in the temple comes from asking ourselves, “Do we get angry over the situations that would anger Jesus'”

The temptation is for us to become angry over matters that do not anger Jesus and then to be calm over problems such as the one that led Jesus to cleanse the temple. Jesus’ anger was appropriate, positive, and focused. It was always an outgrowth of His love, leading Him to act in the interest of others.

The temple is not to be used as a commercial center. It is not to be a place for buying and selling, marketing and retailing, stealing and cheating. It is not to be profaned. The temple is the House of God, God’s House of worship. It is to be a place of sanctity, refined and purified by God Himself. It is to be a place of quietness and meditation, a place set aside for worship, not for buying and selling where man gets gain.

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” {18} Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” {19} Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” {20} The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” {21} But the temple he had spoken of was his body. {22} After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

Jesus does not give them a sign. He does not even refer to any of the signs He seems to have already performed in Jerusalem (see 2:23; 3:2). He is not about to jump through their hoops. He does not even try to convince them who He is. Instead, He speaks to them of the “ultimate sign,” His death and resurrection: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (verse 19). Typically, the Jews can think only in the most literal terms (see Nicodemus in chapter 3). They assume Jesus is referring to Herod’s temple, a temple which has been under construction for “forty-six years.” Does Jesus think He can build a temple in three days that has already been under construction for forty-six years and is not yet complete?

John tells his readers what we already know. Jesus is not speaking of that earthly temple; He knows that it, too, will soon be destroyed (Mark 13:1-2). But He is speaking of Himself as the temple of God, and of His coming crucifixion. He is not trying to persuade these Jews to believe in Him, but rather to prophesy that they will not believe, and that they will put Him to death on Calvary. His triumph will be evident in three days, when He will be “raised up” from the dead.[8]

Jesus doesn’t want to play their game. The only sign Jesus offers is the resurrection. They misunderstand him because they take his words literally (cf. Jn 3:3-4; 4:14-15; 4:32-33; 6:51-52; 7:34-35; 8:51-52; 11:11-12; 14:4-5). They can’t see how Jesus could rebuild an edifice in three days that it took construction crews forty-six years to build.

This will come up again at Jesus’ trial (Mt 26:61; Mk 14:58) as well as at Stephen’s (Acts 6:14), when they are charged with threatening to destroy the temple. And yet it would appear that the Pharisees understood what Jesus intended when they put guards at the tomb (Mt 27:62-66).

When He cleared the temple, Jesus declared ‘war’ on the hypocritical religious leaders (Matt. 23), and this ultimately led to His death.


The cleansing of the temple does not permanently eliminate the abuses described in our text. We know that conditions in the temple were the same at the time of the second cleansing (described in the Synoptic Gospels) as they were in the first cleansing (as described by John).

The temple is being abused, and Jesus rightly responds to such abuse. Even the hard-hearted Jewish religious leaders realize that more is going on here than this. They understand that Jesus is making a claim. He is claiming to have the authority to correct evils performed in the temple.

God has the right to possess what is His. Here, Jesus claims the right to possess the temple because it is His. This incident may seem very distant and detached from us today. We live in a place very distant from Jerusalem, where no temple (like Herod’s temple, which was destroyed) exists. How can this event possibly relate to us? It does, my friend; it really does.

Finally, let me say a word about Jesus and judgment. Many like to think of Jesus as a “God of love,” who never criticizes, never judges, never condemns, whose calling is to affirm everyone and to make them happy. I must remind you that the way our Lord chose to publicly reveal Himself to the world was not by the turning of water into wine, or by raising the dead or healing the sick; Jesus revealed Himself to Israel as her Messiah by His cleansing of the temple.

I would remind you that while John the Baptist foretold the coming of one who was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” he likewise urged men and women to repent, because the Messiah was coming to judge the world. The Jesus of the Bible, the “real Jesus,” is the One who is merciful and gracious to those who trust and obey and the One who will judge those who resist and reject Him.

[1] Hendriksen, p. 121. Hendriksen then goes on to detail the events of the Passover meal itself.

[2] Carson, p. 178.

[3] Hendriksen, p. 122.

[4] “Now at this occasion Jesus, entering Jerusalem’s temple, notices that the court of the Gentiles had been changed into what must have resembled a stockyard. There was the stench and the filth, the bleating and the lowing of animals, destined for sacrifice.” Hendriksen, p. 122.

[5] Grocery stores very often have a bakery, and the smell of freshly baked goods beckons one to the bakery to buy something. As one came to the temple, one would smell the aroma of the sacrificial offerings, and the fragrance of the incense (Luke 1:9-11). It would surely be a pleasant aroma, but not when the temple courts were turned into a stock market.

[6] The Greek word John uses here could be transliterated “emporium.” The temple courts had been transformed into a shopping mall.

[7] “It was the failure to understand that the disciples regarded the Psalmist’s words as prophetic of Christ’s death and the assumption that they referred to the energy and fearlessness of Jesus on this occasion, that gave rise to the later and poorly attested reading followed by AV hath eaten me up in verse 17.” R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980 [tenth printing]), p. 63.

[8] In our text, it is our Lord who raises Himself from the dead: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (verse 19; see also John 10:18). Elsewhere, the resurrection of our Lord is viewed as the work of the Father (Acts 2:24, etc.) and of the Spirit (Romans 8:11). The resurrection, like creation, is the work of the Trinity.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Gospel of John


One response to ““Soar Like Eagles” The Gospel of John #3 “Zeal For My House!” John 2:12-25

  1. Terry Davenport

    January 13, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Very good. TJ

    Sent from my iPad




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