Shane Johnson follows on from talking about Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine, with this discussion of the cleansing of the temple. He explains why we have been given this picture of Jesus dramatically attacking the religious establishment, and what it means for us.
Jesus’ Second Public Action
In John chapter 2 we read of the second action (read about Jesus’ first action here) Jesus took when He started His public ministry – He cleansed the Temple of those who were turning it into a den of thieves. This too revealed His glory. Privately, incognito, Jesus had turned water into wine and saved the day at a wedding He attended but now publicly He was revealing Himself as Lord of the Temple. His appearance at the Temple reminds us of the prophecy Malachi made 400 years before which said,
“The Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His Temple.” (Mal.3:1 NKJV)
The Lord did certainly come suddenly to His Temple, so suddenly that the thieves had nowhere to hide. The Lord caught them red handed.
The Cleansing Of The Temple Was A Recurring Theme
This was not the first time the Lord had cleansed His temple. Many times in the Old Testament He rebuked His people for offering their vain oblations and second-hand sacrifices. In the book of Amos we hear the Lord saying,
“I hate, I despise your feast days and I do not savour your sacred assemblies…take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:21,23 NKJV).
Overturning their tables and driving them all out of the Temple is pretty tame to what the Lord did in the Old Testament. Nadab and Abihu were struck dead for offering strange fire on the holy altar of incense. Uzzah died on the spot for daring to touch the holy ark of God with an unauthorized hand. Jesus actions’ only mirrored God’s actions in the past. After all, the Son can do nothing of Himself but what He sees the Father doing, for Jesus is God in the flesh. Through this event we see the divine and holy character of our Lord spontaneously flash forth.
Eyes Of Flaming Fire
He who is holy, whose eyes are a flame of fire, looked upon the Temple thieves and burned with fury. These are the same eyes that looked upon the city of Jerusalem and burst into tears. His disciples remembered as they thought back on this occasion how zeal for the house of God had eaten him up. Take these things away! He cried out in exasperation. How dare you make My Father’s house a den of thieves, He uttered on another occasion.
You can tell a lot about a person by what makes them angry. One of my friends gets so angry when people are late he almost blows a gasket. My children sometimes get angry when they lose their game or miss a shot. I sometimes get angry when someone butts in front of me in a long line at a grocery store. But none of these things made the Lord Jesus angry. He was never angry at things concerning His own comfort and time. What made Him angry was the dishonour of God and the spiritual abuse of God’s people. That is why we read of Him conflicting with the Pharisees and Sadducees so often. Woe to you, hypocrites! He said to them. A brood of vipers, serpents, He called them. He rebuked them strongly for devouring widow’s houses and keeping the money for themselves. The Lord is the defender of the weak and we see Him in action in the Temple.
Not only were His words harsh towards the religious establishment of His day but also His actions. This is important because we know that actions speak louder than words. We read that when “He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the Temple” (John 2:15). In this action, we see the controlled anger of indignation. It must have taken some time to make that whip of cords, and He used it to move the animals not to whip the people. Critics often accuse the Lord Jesus, in order to malign Him, as having a “temple tantrum.” But that is not true. The Lord Jesus drove them out in order to protect the widow who was being ripped off, in order to save the poor who were being taken advantage of, in order to restore true religion from the greed of charlatans and oppressors. The Lord Jesus is the defender of orphans and widows, the champion of the weak.
Modern Temple Cleansing
I find it a glaring contradiction that the critics of Christianity complain about the tele-evangelists and power hungry priests of religion seeking only power and money, and yet complain when the Lord Jesus rising up to cleanse religion of its abuses. We mustn’t complain about the Lord’s wrath displayed in the Temple and complain at the same time that religion is corrupt. God stands against religious corruption. It angers Him because He is holy and good.
But His wrath is tempered with mercy. After all, instead of overturning their table and ruining their business for a day, He could have confined them all to hell. But the Lord is gracious and merciful. He warns repeatedly before His judgment falls.
A Holy Zeal
If the miracle of turning water into wine was intended to display the Lord’s glory, then the cleansing of the Temple, above all, was meant to display the Lord’s zeal, as it is written, Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” What is zeal? The dictionary defines it as “fervor for a person, cause or object; eager desire or enthusiastic diligence.” It is evident the Lord Jesus had fervor for God’s person, for when God was dishonoured Jesus took action. It is evident the Lord Jesus had fervor for a cause, for when God’s people were being exploited He did not look the other way. It is evident the Lord Jesus had fervor for an object, for when He saw the people being abused and oppressed His anger burned.
What about you? Do you burn with anger when God’s name is dishonoured by those who should be honouring it? Do you have zeal for the cause of God, diligently serving Him with all your mind, heart and strength? Do you have holy passion for the objects of God’s concern, the people of His church and the lost sheep of the world? The Lord displayed His heart in the temple that day for all to see. His actions reveal how much He cares. His anger reflected the intensity of His love. Let us do the same.
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Images Courtesy of:
Jesus Cleansing The Temple: Bernardino Mei
Model of Herod’s Temple: Berthold Werner