Jesus Cleanses the Temple [John 2:13-22 English Standard Version (ESV)]
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,[a] and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 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.
In the Gospel of John, the “Cleansing of the Temple” in Jerusalem is the second “sign” of his special status as God’s son (the first being Jesus’ transformation of water into wine). The cleansing of the Temple begins the public ministry of Jesus in a very dramatic way—by demonstrating Jesus’ “zeal” and his disgust with the unjust and un-Godly practices of Temple worship. In the synoptic Gospels, this incident occurs near the end of Jesus’ ministry and within a week he is arrested and put to death. Why do you think that John places this incident at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? What is John saying about Jesus’ mission?
By attacking the money changers with whips, Jesus is using force. Does his action contradict the idea that Jesus is a pacifist? Or is Jesus’ use of force symbolic since no one is seriously hurt and the Temple authorities don’t intervene? Is Jesus’ action similar to that of the Berrigan brothers when they used hammers to pound on missiles, thereby damaging them.
Why do you feel that Jesus behaved this way? What was he trying to prove or say by his action?
Have you ever committed an act of civil disobedience? Describe why and what happened.
Is Jesus’ behavior a model for how we should respond today to injustice? If not, why not?
Given the fact that the actions of Jesus prompted no intervention on the part of either the Temple guards, nor the Roman legionaries, Pope Francis sees the Cleansing of the Temple not as a violent act but more of a prophetic demonstration [i.e. symbolic speech]. In addition to writing and speaking messages from God, Israelite or Jewish nevi'im ("spokespersons", "prophets") often acted out prophetic parables in their life.
A common interpretation is that Jesus was reacting to the practice of the money changers in routinely cheating the people, but Marvin L. Krier Mich observes that a good deal of money was stored at the temple, where it could be loaned by the wealthy to the poor who were in danger of losing their land to debt. The Temple establishment therefore co-operated with the aristocracy in the exploitation of the poor. One of the first acts of the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE was the burning of the debt records in the archives, thereby cancelling the debts and liberating the poor.
Clearly there was some sort of injustice going on in the temple that Jesus was responding to and, compared most of the other stories told about him, he was uncharacteristically aggressive. The disciples later related Jesus' action to "zeal", which had a number of overtones, then and now, of .
On the other hand, Jesus did not ever lead an armed revolt and seems to have done his best to avoid being caught up in such a thing. In , the people are ready to crown him as king and he withdraws from them. While he did cause a disturbance, he really didn't cause any permanent harm. In the end, he was put to death for actions such as this and died without protest.
So two opposing views of this account are:
1. Jesus demonstrated civil disobedience by disrupting commerce in the temple.
2. Jesus demonstrated using appropriate force to correct an injustice.
Is this a false dichotomy? How should we interpret Jesus' actions?
Destroy this Temple and I Will Raise it Up in Three Days?
According to this passage, Jesus foresaw his death and resurrection and asserted that his body was a temple more lasting than the one built by Herod to show off his power. (Those reading this would know that the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, thereby ending Jewish temple worship and forcing many Jews to leave their homeland. Many Christians experienced the risen Christ and saw his words as prophetic.)
Pasadena theologian and activist Bert Newton has written a book called The Subversive Wisdom of John’s Gospel. Do you feel it was subversive for Jesus to claim that his body was somehow more important than the Temple?
Paul and early Christians imitated Jesus and referred to their bodies as a “temples.” This belief profoundly influenced Quakers. How do you feel about the belief that each person’s body is a temple of the Spirit? Do you treat your body as a temple? If so, how?