"The Temple" Bible Study on John 2:13-22
March 4, 2021, 10:50 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from John 2:13-22 (Common English Bible).

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 He found in the temple those who were selling cattle, sheep, and doves, as well as those involved in exchanging currency sitting there. 15 He made a whip from ropes and chased them all out of the temple, including the cattle and the sheep. He scattered the coins and overturned the tables of those who exchanged currency. 16 He said to the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Don’t make my Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written, Passion for your house consumes me.[a]

18 Then the Jewish leaders asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple and in three days I’ll raise it up.”

20 The Jewish leaders replied, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” 21 But the temple Jesus was talking about was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said, and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

This Sunday, March 7th, I am going to share an Intergenerational Message on the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) that will be written especially with children and youth as its primary focus audience.  I think adults will probably get a lot out of it too.  If this Sunday would not have been an Intergenerational Sunday, I would have focused on John 2:13-22 where Jesus clears the temple courts of the moneychangers.  So, I think that I'll concentrate on that passage for the Pastor's Blog Bible Study today.

While the story of Jesus cleansing the temple is found in all four Gospels, John significantly changes the story in some important ways from the way that Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell it.  The three synoptic Gospels put this episode in the context of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, forcing the conflict with Jesus and the authorities to come to a deadly climax.

John, on the other hand, puts this story early in the story of Jesus.  It's as if John wants to say something very significant about the identity and work of Jesus right here at the beginning of his Gospel.

John 2:13-22 is the first of three Passovers in the Fourth Gospel.  In this case, Jesus strides into the outer courtyard of the temple where merchants are selling the animals required for the cleansing temple sacrifice.  The moneychangers are providing an essential service in changing the idolatrous coins of Caesar for the pure temple coinage.  Jesus' response to these                moneychangers doesn't imply that Jesus is opposed to the purifying temple sacrifice system but rather to the location of these business transactions: "Take these things out of here!" (John 2:16)

Earlier practice located the stalls for the animals and the moneychangers in a more distant location, in the Kidron Valley.  But these vendors had been allowed to come into the temple's sacred precincts.  Jesus fashions a whip and also overturns the vendors' tables, asserting that "this is his Father's house."

Watching Jesus drive the moneychangers from the temple, the disciples recall a verse from the Psalms, "Zeal for your house will consume me (John 2:17, compare to Psalm 69:9).  Surely we the readers are meant to see that Jesus has a peculiar zeal for purity and that he presents some sort of challenge to the temple and its systems of engagement with God.  Notably, it is this zeal of Jesus that leads the authorities to have conflict with Jesus.

John 2:17 is taken from a psalm of lament that was prayed by someone whose passion for God has resulted in separation from kindred and community (Psalm 69:8).  Because of his fate, the psalmist has suffered shame and insult (Psalm 69:7).  Surely John means this to be a foreshadowing of Jesus' final moments upon the cross (John 19:28-29).  Jesus' ministry is bringing him into conflict with his own kindred and community.  Because he is consumed with the holiness of his "father's house," he will suffer separation, persecution, and ridicule.

Immediately after Jesus' statement of his rationale for his radical actions, John talks about "the Jews" demanding a sign of Jesus' authorization for his stunt in the temple.  We must be careful here not to see the term "the Jews" as a pejorative, or antisemitic term.  Remember that John is clearly a Jew writing to fellow Jews.  We are not witnessing conflict between adherents of two religions, the "Christians" and "Jews," but rather over who is more faithful to the God of Israel, Jews who follow Jesus or Jews who do not believe Jesus could be the long-awaited Messiah.  In acting for and calling for purity in temple worship, Jesus is not opposing the faith of Israel but adopting the role of the critical prophet who calls the people to the deep faith of Israel.

Typical of the Gospel of John, any literal interpretation of Jesus' prophecy about the temple being destroyed is impossible.  John even explicitly tells us in verse 19 that when Jesus said this he was "speaking of the temple of his body" (John 2:21).  Mark told us back in Epiphany that when Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon his body.  Now, John is showing us how Jesus' body is the new means whereby we are to meet God, and God is to meet us.

This talk of Jesus' body is surely the key to interpreting this text.  John intrudes with interpretation of Jesus' strange words and deeds by letting us in on a messianic secret: Jesus' body is the new "temple," the new place of worship, the new connection between God and humanity.  Destroy that "temple" on a cross, and God will restore it in three days at the resurrection because in the body of Jesus, his crucified and then resurrected body, we bodily encounter God, and God encounters us.

So, what's the point of Jesus Christ, God with a body, coming among us?  John's answer, "Fellowship" -- friendship, communion -- "with the Father and with God's Son (Read 1 John 1:1-5).

In a few weeks, we will follow Jesus to his trial where the governmental and religious authorities will render a verdict against him.  They will horribly torture his body.  Jesus will be nailed down to a cross.  That's our human verdict, the end of God's "temple," this bodily meeting place between us and God.

But just wait three days, and we will discover God's infinite determination to be in fellowship, in communion, in friendship with us.

The temple shall be raised.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Greg Rupright


03-05-2021 at 7:20 PM
Pat May
Thanks be fo God! Amen.
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