Two very different viewpoints on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple – John 2:12-25, Part 3

When Jesus’ disciples thought about Jesus’ wild actions of cleansing the temple, believe or not, it makes them think about a poem, a song, Psalm 69.  Only Psalm 22 is quoted more frequently in by the New Testament writers.  That means the earliest Christians saw in Psalm 69 numerous connections to the Messiah.  If you read it, you’ll see why.  In verse 9, to be precise, we read “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  Watching in wonder as Jesus performed his protest in the temple, hearing him declare that the temple leaders had a made a mockery of God’s house, the disciples could remember Psalm 69:9, a Messianic psalm, and think, “That’s him.  The Psalm is talking about him.  That’s the Messiah doing what the Messiah was supposed to do.” 

There are two other Old Testament prophets who speak about something like this.  They are Zechariah 14:21: “And on that day there will no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord Almighty.” and Malachi 3:1, 3: “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple … he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” One commentator says, “This means that this act of prophetic symbolism was a denunciation of worship that was not pure. It was a prophetic invitation to worship God from the heart, without clamour or distracting influences.”[1]

But not everyone there that day had the same viewpoint as the disciples, that Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy, that he was doing a good thing, trying to help people worship.  We discover in verse 18 that some other people there were not happy at all.

“Security” personnel has finally showed up on the scene, and they are not happy.  That’s who John is referring to when he says, “The Jews.”  Not all Jews or just any random Jews.  He is referring to the religious leaders who oversaw the temple and what happened there.  Interestingly, they don’t just have Jesus arrested and removed, like you’d think they would.  Why not? Well, the story takes an interesting turn.

The marketplace was operating there by permission of the religious leaders.  People didn’t just walk into the temple, cause a stampede and start flipping the moneychangers’ tables. Isn’t it peculiar, then, that the religious leaders ask Jesus for a miraculous sign?  In their eyes, they didn’t believe he had authority to do what he did. They believed theirs was the only authority that mattered.  Therefore they don’t ask him, “Who gave you permission to do this?” because that would have been a pointless question.  Only they could give permission to clear out the market, and they did not give permission. So they ask him instead for a miraculous sign. 

Does that strike you as odd? A random guy, at least in the religious leaders’ minds, seems to lose his mind and go wild in the temple, and they ask him for a miraculous sign to substantiate his authority? Why would think anything like that? It seems that there was an interpretation of Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah, Israel’s savior or deliverer, would do miracles. So if this person could do miracles, then he comes with God’s authority, and his actions would supersede the religious leaders’ authority.

The readers of the Gospel should have a light bulb go off in their minds as they read verse 18.  A miraculous sign!  Where have we heard that before?  In the passage we studied last week.  At the wedding, Jesus did a miraculous sign, changing the water into wine!  John, it seems, wants his readers to make that connection, answering the religious leaders with, “I know what miraculous sign he did! He changed water into wine!” 

Also, the people there that day, including the religious leaders themselves, could answer their own question if they wanted to, just by looking at the mess caused by the stampede and overturned tables.  Jesus had just performed a sign, in the fashion of the many prophets who had gone before him in Israel’s history.  This was a prophetic sign, a symbolic message that what had been happening in the temple was a disgrace.  Perhaps that’s why the religious leaders didn’t immediately arrest him, because they knew he was right.  And yet they can’t just allow this challenge to their authority go unconfronted.

More than likely they not only believed he didn’t have any authority, they also thought he wasn’t able to produce a miracle, and so they would be able to arrest him. They want to see how he’ll answer this important question.  How will Jesus answer? We’ll find out in the next post.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 179.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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