Jesus Cleanses the Temple
- Main Text: John 2:13-25
- Accompanying text: Psalm 127:1-2
The conflict in timing of this event between John and the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) has been the source of much discussion and sometimes debate among biblical scholars and theologians. Even the details described in both accounts are different, so much so that some suggest there were two cleansings of the temple, and John’s was the first. There is no clear majority view. “The first thing to notice is that the Gospels are not four independent works, but fall into two groups: Matthew, Mark and Luke on the one hand, and John on the other…one crucial incident, the ‘cleansing of the Temple’, when Jesus kicked out the money changers and the sellers of animals, is quite differently dated: in Matthew, Mark and Luke it is part of the run-up to Jesus’ arrest and is possibly thought of as the last straw that turned the Jewish authorities against him (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark11:15-18, Luke 19:45), whereas in John it comes early in his career (John 2:13-21)” .
The context of John’s account is that Jesus’ immediate family and his disciples made a brief visit to Capernaum after the miracle of water being changed into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, which was “the first of the signs through which he (Jesus, the Son) revealed his glory” (John 2:11ESV), before proceeding to Jerusalem. Therefore, we “are in Jerusalem. It is near the Passover. We have walked up to the Temple. If you read to near the end of the story you will see that the temple is still in the process of being rebuilt. Like all good building projects, it is over time and over budget. It was King Herod who started it. He loved a lavish project. But he didn’t finish this one. So far it had taken forty-six years (2:20). That gives the reader a steer on the year. We are somewhere between AD 26 and 29, depending on what year they actually started, but we don’t know.
In Jesus’ day the temple was deeply corrupt. Don’t think of it as a large church. The Temple was a religious city state that had tremendous power and exerted huge influence. Think Parliament, the Vatican and Premier League football all rolled into one. All in the hands of just a few ruling families.
Many Jewish groups had abandoned Temple worship and spoke against it. Judaism wasn’t one big happy family in the first century. There were lots of groups and sects with conflicting agendas and different theological interests” .
Thoughts re application today
“First, it means that God is going to judge the corrupt Temple and it will be no more. God’s judgement is coming on the Temple because of the failings of its leaders and their corruption of God’s gift.
Second, it means that Jesus is the new Temple (2:21). We will discover, when we get to the Old Testament underneath these stories, that Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel all see a new and glorious Temple being built that will heal the nations and spread over the whole earth. Jesus takes all that to himself. ‘Forget this structure here. I am the Temple. My death and resurrection are the true and full expression of all that the Temple stood for. Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days. This physical Temple in which we are standing is just a picture that pointed to me.’ This is a bold theological statement.
Third, he is announcing himself as a temple builder. In being the person who will build the new Temple, he is proclaiming himself to be the new King. It is kings who build temples. No one else does. Jesus’ coming is an act of great hope — God’s prophetic purpose is going to be fulfilled in him. There is going to be a righteous King who will build the house of God, which is what God had promised to King David.” 
As we read the Gospel of John, it’s important to see much of what John records from a Christological perspective. John’s emphasis throughout his gospel writings is to do with who Jesus is and how Jesus is the incarnate word, the Messiah, the anointed Christ, the only begotten Son of God. The signs that John mentions, and the contexts around them, point to the reality of who Jesus is and to how Christ’s coming signals redemptive movement for all of humanity. In one way the new wine of the miracle at Cana is like the new wine of Jesus and his teachings and the old wine is gone, finished. In cleansing the Temple courts Jesus is opening the Gospel up not just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. This is to do with redemption and salvation. The old Temple worship has come to an end and the new Temple is the body of Christ himself, to which his resurrection would also testify: “When therefore 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” (2:22).
- Matthew 21:12-17
- Luke 19:45-48
Footnotes and references:
- John Barton, A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths, published by Penguin Random House UK, 2020:190.
- Ian Galloway, Called to be Friends: Unlocking the heart of John’s Gospel, published by Hodder & Stoughton, UK, 2021:106.
- Ibid. 109