Cleaning House

12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

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, 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. – John 2:12-22

After Jesus had performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana, He traveled to the city of Capernaum, some 13 miles away on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  He was accompanied by His five disciples, as well as His mother and brothers. These would have been the half-brothers of Jesus because they were the offspring of Joseph, while He had been conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The fact that Jesus had other brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3), eliminates the Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, which was first introduced sometime in the second century. She and Joseph went on to have other children besides Jesus.

But this little entourage made their way down to Capernaum from Cana. The Bible records geographic locations, not by their coordinates on a compass, but by their elevation. Topographically, the town of Cana was located at a higher elevation, so as one traveled to Capernaum, they would descend into the valley around the Sea of Galilee. We know from Matthew’s gospel that Jesus would eventually make Capernaum His base of operations whenever He was in the region of Galilee. As Matthew points out, this move was in direct fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah that was recorded by Isaiah.

While in Galilee, he moved from Nazareth to make his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah would be fulfilled:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way by the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light,
and on those who sit in the region and shadow of death a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:13-16 NLT

The “light” was beginning to spread His influence. In just a matter of days, Jesus has traveled from the southern region of Judah, where He was baptized by John the Baptist. While the exact site of His baptism is not known, it is believed to have taken place on the eastern shore of the Jordan, just north of the dead sea. He made His way from there to Cana in Galilee and then on to Capernaum. But after only a few days of rest, Jesus was on the move again. This time, He returned to the region of Judea, in order to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. –John 2:13 ESV

This initial trip by Jesus into the capital city is recorded only by John. And, once again, John is using the circumstances surrounding this event to prove the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. John provides scant details regarding Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But his abbreviated narrative describes Jesus as making His way to the temple. It brings to mind another trip Jesus had made to the very same spot some 18 years earlier.

Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.

When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. – Luke 2:41-47 NLT

The first time, Jesus had entered the temple as a young boy, desiring to discuss theology with the religious leaders. But this time, He made His way into His Father’s house with the full authority that was His as the Son of God. And Jesus did not like what He saw.

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 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. – John 2:14-15 ESV

What Jesus found was a carnival-like atmosphere taking place within the large open courtyard surrounding the temple itself. This was most likely the Courtyard of the Gentiles, a space reserved for non-Jews, who had become converts to Judaism. It was the only place on the temple mount where they were allowed. But the priests had transformed this spot into a marketplace where they sold unblemished animals to all the pilgrims who came to offer sacrifices to Yahweh. Because of the Passover celebration, this area would have been jam-packed with thousands of pilgrims, as well as corrupt “bankers” who profited by requiring the everyone to exchange their foreign currency for temple-approved silver coins. This “pure” money was then used to buy sacrificial animals from the many vendors who had been licensed by the priests.

Anyone who brought their own animal to offer as a sacrifice had to have it approved by the priests. It wasn’t uncommon for the priests to deem an animal as impure and therefore, unacceptable. They would then require the individual to purchase one of their unblemished lambs, on sale in the temple courtyard. The “rejected” lamb would then be recycled and sold to the next pilgrim in need of an unblemished lamb. It was an atmosphere rife with graft and greed.

And Jesus responded with righteous indignation.

“Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:16 ESV

Don’t miss how Jesus describes the temple. He calls it His Father’s house. This was the same description Jesus had used 18 years earlier when explaining to His parents why they had discovered Him in the temple.

“Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49 NLT

For John, the words of Jesus provided further proof of His deity. For Jesus, His statement explains the authority by which He did what He did. He was cleansing His Father’s house. Men had turned it into a marketplace where they worshiped money and bowed down to the idol of their own greed. But Jesus was not going to put up with their abuse of His Father’s dwelling place. The Levitical priests, who were responsible for the care of the temple, were guilty of abusing their God-given authority and of fleecing the flock of God for their own personal gain.

Centuries earlier, he prophet Malachi had predicted that this day would come.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:1-4 NLT

Years would pass before the disciples understood the significance of this event. John, one of those disciples, confesses that the time came when “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17 ESV). They didn’t fully understand what Jesus was doing at the time. Neither did the religious leaders. They angrily enquired, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” (John 2:18 ESV). What they were wanting was some kind of proof or evidence that Jesus had the authority to back up His actions.

They exhibit no remorse for their own actions. They display no sorrow over Jesus’ accusations against them. They simply want to know who Jesus was and why He thought He had the right to do what He just did. And the answer Jesus gave left them scratching their heads in confusion.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – John 2:19 ESV

Their immediate response makes it clear that they had taken His words literally.

“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” – John 2:20 ESV

But as John points out, “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). The priests wanted Jesus to do a sign that would prove His authority to speak and act on behalf of God. And Jesus told them that they would one day have the sign for which they were looking. It would come in the form of His own death and resurrection. Of course, they would end up rejecting that sign. The Jewish religious leaders would refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. They would eventually see to it that He was put to death by the Romans. And when the rumors of His resurrection began to circulate, they would discount and discredit them.

But the actions and words of Jesus would stick with His disciples who had been there that day in the temple courtyard. And three years later, when they saw their resurrected Lord, they would recall His words and believe.

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. – John 2:22 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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