International Sunday School Lesson Study Notes
Lesson Text: John 2:13-22 Lesson Title: Cleansing the Temple
The first thing Jesus did the first time He came to Jerusalem was to cleanse the temple. The first thing Jesus did the last week of His public ministry was to cleanse the temple a second time (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47). A careful reading of all the text will lead us to believe there were two temple cleansings. The first cleansing of the temple was not a supernatural event like turning water to wine, but it does qualify as a sign pointing to Jesus Christ as the Word of God. Jesus’ act in cleansing the temple assumes His authority as the representative of God. He referred to the temple as “my Father’s house” (John 2:16).
Jesus’ first miracle was in Galilee and the people he encountered there were much different than those he would face in the temple at Jerusalem. One would assume that Jesus would come to the temple and upon finding it desecrated and defiled, would quietly and gently encourage those buying and selling to examine their life and make a change for the better. In other words, the meek and lowly Jesus should demonstrate love and deal gently with sinners. However, what John records for us is a different reaction entirely. And the reason is that “the Jews” of Jerusalem were hostile as a group and were suspicious of Jesus’ claim to be God and of His power (John 2:13, 18, 20).
The Jews took great pride and gloried in the temple, for it was one of the main things that separated them from other nations, as the chosen and favored people of God. But now, God Himself was there in the person of Jesus Christ. And the results weren’t pretty.
Christ’s Coming to the Temple (John 2:13)
“And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem” reveals that from Galilee Jesus went to Jerusalem at the season of the Passover. It was the custom of Jesus’ time that every faithful Jew go to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. Jesus as a faithful Jew came to Jerusalem and was among the millions gathered. But in John’s Gospel, Jesus’ visits to Jerusalem are more than just observances of special days. Each time Jesus goes from His home in the north to Jerusalem in the south, He confronts the religious leaders who realize that His authority threatens their position. When Jesus comes to our homes and our places of worship He doesn’t come to just merely observe. He threatens our positions and challenges our motives. And anywhere the Holy Son of God appears the sin and impurity of our lives and actions will be revealed.
Christ’s Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:14-17)
When Jesus arrived at the temple he “found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting.” Jesus’ action in coming to the temple at the beginning of his earthly ministry was a fulfillment of Messianic prophecy in Malachi 3:1, 3. Those witnessing His action didn’t realize it but prophecy was being fulfilled right before their eyes when Jesus came to the temple.
The “temple” was where worship would take place. The word “temple” in this text refers to the entire complex. The buying and selling of animals took place in Court of the Gentiles on the temple grounds. Because sacrifices were offered during Passover time the people needed to buy animals. That is the reason Jesus “found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves.” The law required sacrifices of oxen and sheep and pigeons, and many worshippers would have come a long way and would not have brought their sacrifice with them. Inside the temple court, a place designed for prayer and acts of worship, there were pens of oxen and sheep, and cages of pigeons and sellers sitting around them waiting to make a transaction.
Jesus also found “…the changers of money sitting” in the temple. They were those who were prepared to exchange a pilgrim’s money into the right currency so that they could make a purchase. They were like “religious ATM machines.” Of course there was a small fee for usage! All of this business mentality made the animals readily available and easy to purchase. You could say it was the loving thing to do. The temple had been made “user friendly.”
“Sitting” means they were positioned. It had become the acceptable thing. They didn’t feel threatened and certainly not convicted. Honestly, they felt like they were doing the people a favor. They had the same mindset of the modern church of today. It has become all about comfort, ease, a non-threatening environment. What’s the harm would have been their response had you ask them why they were doing what they were doing in the temple.
This story flows with five conjunctions, “and” (John 2:13, 14, 15, 16, 17). The conjunctions connect each action and occurrence. There is no hesitation or question on Jesus’ part as to what is happening or how He will respond. For the average church today the newcomer would have walked into the temple court, saw what was taking place, have been escorted to the best bargain by a well trained church member, bought a dove or a pigeon and then said, “Cool. This is a lot better than bringing my own sacrifice!” “And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables.” Religion in Jesus day had become a business and Jesus had come to the temple to straighten out the business. It was nothing more than a “glorified yard sale” and the Son of God became irate! And don’t go soft and ask, “I wonder why Jesus got so upset.” What you ought to be asking is, “Why am I not upset with my life and my church?”
The prophet Jeremiah said, “Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city” (Lamentations 3:51). What Jesus saw affected his heart and his actions demonstrate that. If what you are seeing doesn’t affect your heart then maybe you’re not seeing what is really taking place in modern Christianity.
The “scourge of small cords” refers to a “whip.” With all the animals around there were probably cages and ropes lying everywhere so Jesus picked up the necessary materials and “made a scourge of small cords” and “drove them all out of the temple.” Yes, Jesus used the “scourge of small cords” to drive “them all out of the temple.” “Them” who? Those “that sold oxen” (v.14) and “the changers of money” (v.14) were objects of “the scourge of small cords.” He did not save that whip for the sheep and the oxen; He put it to the back of men. He drove them out “and the sheep, and the oxen.” Yes, there were animals whipped by the actions of Jesus! Jesus Christ went into the temple with a whip in His hand and went right and left and drove those people out and the animals out. He is striking the men and the animals to get them moving. He cleared the temple.
Jesus also “poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables.” Don’t minimize what is taking place here and don’t apologize for Jesus. He is not the weak faced individual that many have portrayed Him to be. He was some kind of a man. He was God-man. He is Creator of those people and animals. He is Sovereign God in human flesh. The temple is His. This was Messiah at work and there is no hesitation, no pauses, and no regrets. When Jesus moves, people move.
Question: Are these the actions of a Savior or a mad man? Is Jesus an extremist? What do His actions reveal about Him? What do they reveal about the condition of the temple? What do they reveal about the condition of the people?
“And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.” It has been said that actions speak louder than words. However, in the cleansing of the temple, Jesus words actually speak louder than His actions. Verse 15 tells us what Jesus did. Verse 16 tells us why He did it.
There is no doubt that Jesus’ action in verse 15 reveals His authority. But His words in verse 16 reveal His deity. When Jesus refers to God as His Father, Jesus implies that He has a relationship as God’s Son that is like no other person’s. Jesus has the right to act boldly in the temple because He enters the temple as the Son of the God to whom the temple belongs. Jesus’ Father is God and this is “my Father’s house.” And when the holiness of God the Father is at stake, Jesus is not hesitant or complacent. He demands reverence for the House of God, because He is God. Like God in the Old Testament was sick of the entire hypocritical system of animal sacrifice, Jesus is sick of what He sees in the temple (Isaiah 1:13-14; Malachi 1:7-8).
“Merchandise” is the Greek word emporion. It means, “a place where trade is carried on.” By using this particular word Jesus is conveying the message that the temple is being used for some to get rich at the expense of others and the entire purpose of God has been destroyed. Christianity and religion has become a lucrative business in our culture. Salaries, packages, benefits, position and recognition has slowly and deceptively become the reason for ministry. While the Bible does teach adequate compensation for those who labor for the Lord, God never intended for men and ministries to make “merchandise” of His place of worship. God, by contrast, is gracious. He provides for His people’s needs and gives and gives and gives. Sacrifice in the temple is a powerful image of this: God provides His needy people with the means to approach Him in worship and to receive His forgiveness. People are never to be exploited, least of all in God’s house! The true and right use of the temple centers on God’s amazing, sacrificial grace, which will be seen most fully in Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
But there is a deeper message in Christ’s actions than just the hypocrisy, selfish greed, and exploitation of people. The day was coming to an end when animal sacrifice would be required. Just as Christ is destroying and driving out their little hypocritical sacrificial system on this day in the temple, he will in the near future completely destroy the need for it in the sacrifice of Himself at Calvary. So Christ disrupts their religious system at the Passover. But at Calvary He will end it altogether and usher in “a new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20).
“And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” After seeing Jesus’ actions and hearing Jesus’ words the disciples made a connection by remembering Psalm 69:9, “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” These words of David reveal David’s zeal for God’s House. The Jew knew that David was always defending God’s honor and God’s glory. And they knew that when David defended God’s honor and glory that it always made his enemies angry and made David a target for trouble. The disciples now fear that Jesus’ actions are going to place his life in jeopardy. They fear for His safety. Those who have an interest in the temple and those who have been driven away will not take it lightly.
The same holds true today. When you defend God’s honor and holiness, you are an open target!
Question: Do you have a passion for God’s honor and holiness? Do you believe God’s temple should be clean, pure, holy, and not used for merchandise? If so, remember the temple today is not a building in Jerusalem or even the local meeting place. It is the heart of every believer. Are you bothered when there are sheep, doves, pigeons, and money changers in your heart?
Remember: Our church buildings are just buildings. However, they reflect what is in the heart of those who occupy that building. Is your heart consistent with the physical place you worship?
Christ’s Conversation about the Temple (John 2:18-22)
“Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” In other words, “show us or explain to us what right you had to do what you just did.” Why didn’t they retaliate? Why didn’t they take hold of him and restrain him? The answer is that what Jesus had just done was done with such power and authority that no one dared do anything except question him.
The question, “What sign shewest thou unto us…” is stupid. They had just “SEEN” him clear the temple and they ask for a sign! What better sign could you have! But we have to remember that these are unbelievers and unbelievers always want a sign. They always need to see something. They hadn’t just seen Jesus cleanse the temple they had seen their own sinfulness in his actions and they are not willing to admit that their hearts are most defiled that the temple. They wouldn’t face the defilement of the temple, so Jesus cleaned it out. They wouldn’t face their own personal sin, so now Jesus will answer them.
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” There is the sign they requested. Jesus said, “Kill me, and I will rise in three days.” Only He says it in language they didn’t grasp. Jesus’ answer is paradox and can carry more than one meaning from his one statement. The Jews response is that everyone knows that a building such as the temple would take decades to build. And for Jesus to suggest that the temple could or would be destroyed would have stunned his Jewish audience. To the Jews it seemed absurd for anyone to think their temple could be destroyed and if it was that it could be rebuilt in “three days.”
“But he spake of the temple of his body.” The word “temple” in verse 14 is the Greek word hieron, referring to the structure of the temple building. The word “temple” in verse 19 is the Greek word naos, the word consistently used to describe the holy of holies in the temple and the human body as the residence of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is possible that Jesus was looking at the actual temple and when he spoke but referring to his own body that would be raised from the dead. His answer meant that if they (unbelieving Jews) “destroyed” the temple of Jesus’ earthly body, He would “raise it up” or resurrect from the grave in “three days” (John 10:17-18). But also, if they destroyed the actual building of the temple, He would raise another temple, His church. If Jesus can do what He has just said, then He is greater than Solomon and greater than Herod. He can. He did. And He is greater than Solomon and Herod (Matthew 12:42).
“When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” Jesus’ disciples did not understand all of what Jesus said until after His resurrection, and the rest of the Jews did not understand it at all. In fact, like many today, they never understood anything he was talking about (Matthew 13:14, 51).
What was it about Jesus’ resurrection that caused “his disciples” to “remember” what Jesus had said at the temple cleansing? He was crucified which is the meaning of “destroy this temple” (v.19). He came out of the grave “three days” later. His actions and words must have seemed strange and hard to understand at the moment, but on resurrection day and the days following it demonstrated that His claims were true.
In His actions and answers Jesus is implying that the focal point of everything from this day forward is to be on Him, not a temple or a physical building. The temple represented God’s presence with His people. But from now on God will be present with His people through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only sacrifice that matters. Only His death offers forgiveness for sin.
At the Jew’s Passover in today’s lesson, only those Jews with acceptable sacrifices could come to the temple and have access to worship and those who did found the entire process to be corrupted and dishonorable to God. After Jesus cleansed His Father’s house, he explained why he cleansed it. He had a passion for holiness and God’s glory. Furthermore, he related his actions to a day ahead and a greater purpose and plan. The physical temple in which he stood would be destroyed and his earthly body in which he lived would be crucified. But with their destruction a new temple would rise.
Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus would speak these words to the Samaritan woman. “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:21-22). In other words, authentic worship will not be attached to Jerusalem (or any other place). It will be in spirit and in truth. It is attached to Jesus. Jesus is the new temple. When he rose from the dead, he made it possible for everyone in all the world to come to God through him.
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